Israel has consistently made clear its support – moral, political, economic — for the Ukrainians. It voted to condemn Russia for its invasion of the Ukraine in the first vote taken at the General Assembly. It voted on April 7 in favor of removing Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. Israeli leaders, and especially Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, have repeatedly criticized Russia for its “massacres” and its “war crimes.”
Israel has been quick to supply aid to Ukraine. So far, it has sent 220 tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine – the largest amount sent by any country except the U.S. Israel has also built a large field hospital inside Ukraine, run by Israeli medical personnel. And it has welcomed tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees into Israel, including 25,000 non-Jews.
But despite all this, the media continue to paint Israel as an ally of Vladimir Putin, “taking Russia’s side” and refusing to condemn its atrocities. A report on this attempt to sully Israel’s image is here: “Note to the Media: Israel Is Not a Russian ‘Ally’ in the War Against Ukraine,” by Akiva Van Koningsveld, Algemeiner, April 8, 2022:
Even as Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid this week charged Russian forces with war crimes following the apparent massacre in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, media outlets continue to manipulate their audiences into thinking that the Jewish state has turned a blind eye to Moscow’s reported atrocities.
For instance, during the BBC’s April 6 evening news broadcast, Clive Myrie, reporting from Kyiv, depicted Israel as a Russian “ally” in the war against Ukraine, akin to India.
Clive Myrie’s choice of words was unfair to Israel. But it’s to be expected from the BBC, given its decades of unsympathetic coverage of the Jewish state. Israel is not Russia’s ally in the Ukraine war, “akin to India.” Unlike Israel, the Indian government has refused to vote against Russia twice – first in the UN General Assembly vote to condemn Moscow for the invasion of the Ukraine, and then in the UN General Assembly vote to remove Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. Furthermore, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi, nor any other Indian official, has condemned Russia the way that Israel has repeatedly done. In the latest round of responses to a Russian atrocity, Prime Minister Bennett has condemned the “massacres” by the Russians in Bucha, while Foreign Minister Lapid has condemned Russia for committing “war crimes” in that tormented city. And that is not the first time that Lapid has described Russian actions as “war crimes.”
Meanwhile, a United Press International (UPI) column published earlier that day claimed that Jerusalem maintains an “unholy alliance” with Moscow. The UK’s Daily Express voiced a similar sentiment: the newspaper falsely grouped Israel with “Putin’s allies” who have “not criticize[d] the Kremlin’s actions.”
These are gross mischaracterizations of Israel’s relations with Russia. It is not in an “unholy alliance” with a country it votes against at the UN. It isn’t an “ally” when it works against the Russians by aiding the Ukrainians with 220 tons of humanitarian aid. It isn’t an “ally” of Russia when Israel’s Foreign Minister repeatedly accuses Russia of “war crimes.”
Since the war in Ukraine broke out six weeks ago, a sample of 18 US news organizations produced a total of 534 articles analyzing Israel’s stance on the conflict. Less than one in four (127) explained why Jerusalem has taken what Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described as a “measured and responsible” approach to the crisis.
The media have failed to explain to audiences why Israel has not been willing to send weapons to the Ukrainians. According to the study, only one in four media accounts discusses Israel’s need to not totally alienate Russia. The other three-quarters simply leave the impression that Israel has chosen to side with the monstrous Putin for no apparent reason. But there is a good reason for Israel not to send weapons to Ukraine. Just as the Americans and other members of NATO have been careful not to send airplanes to the Ukrainians, so as not to risk a direct military confession with Russia, Israel has been careful not to send weapons because that would have similarly severe consequences: Russia would no longer allow Israeli planes freedom of movement in the skies over Syria, where so far the Russians have done nothing to prevent Israeli planes from bombing Iranian bases in Syria. Those bases are where precision-guided missiles are being manufactured, or brought in from Iran, for eventual delivery to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel needs to be able to continue bombing those bases as it has been, unhindered by Russian planes or missiles.
As such, journalists at major outlets have failed to provide news consumers with vital context about Israel’s policies toward Russia, which have been in large part driven by geopolitical realities in the Middle East.
In this case, Russia is the leading international player in Syria, where Israeli forces must maintain freedom of action to thwart Iranian terrorism that threatens the stability of the entire region.
This means that Israel has to tread carefully. But it has gone right up to the line of what Russia will tolerate. The Jewish state it has been forthright in its criticism of Russia, and that criticism has become ever harsher, as more atrocities are unearthed. But apparently, the tacit understanding between Moscow and Jerusalem still holds. As long as Israel does not send weapons to Ukraine, nothing will change in the skies over Syria, where Israeli planes will still be able to conduct bombing raids on Iranian bases, without Russian interference.
Despite this need to not infuriate Russia, on April 3, Israel’s top diplomat — Foreign Minister Lapid — took to Twitter, writing that it is “impossible to remain indifferent in the face of the horrific images from the city of Bucha near Kyiv, from after the Russian army left.” Lapid added: “Intentionally harming a civilian population is a war crime and I strongly condemn it.”
Contrary to the narrative promoted by the BBC and other publications, Israeli officials have on multiple occasions voiced support for Ukraine. Hours before Russia’s full-scale military campaign began on February 24, the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a communiqué that backed the “territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine.” The missive said that Israel “hopes for a diplomatic solution which will lead to calm, and is willing to help if asked.”
Despite all the media claims about Israel’s “unholy alliance” with Russia, it should be underlined that even before the actual invasion started, with Russian tanks amassed at the border with Ukraine, Israel ‘s Foreign Ministry expressed its support for the “territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine.” And it has been repeating this message ever since. That sounds to me like Israel has indeed been “taking sides” – with Ukraine.
Lapid has said that the Jewish state “identif[ies] with the citizens that are under considerable danger and stress in Kyiv, Kharkiv, in the south and in other locations.” Furthermore, Lapid has called the attack on Ukraine a “serious violation of the international order.” Would an “ally of Russia” do that?
In response to Lapid’s statements, Israeli Ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Ben Zvi, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on February 25. In a subsequent announcement, Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, “expressed hope” that Israel would show understanding for the military assault on Ukraine. For his part, Russian Ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, cautioned the Jewish state to “continue [taking] a wise diplomatic approach” and not join “a new kind of sport” of bashing Russia….
From the very beginning, Russia has been warning Israel to be careful, meaning “watch what you say about the invasion, because we have ways…”. The meaning was always clear: take a “wise diplomatic approach” and don’t criticize us, for otherwise you may find you will be deprived of your freedom to attack Iranian bases in Syria. Israel has only partly agreed: it continues to criticize Russia, but won’t cross Moscow’s red llne and send weapons to Ukraine.
At the same time, since 2015 Russia has supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the armed forces of the Russian Federation have become the primary actor in the country, necessitating Israeli military cooperation with the Kremlin. To prevent Israel and Russia from clashing inside Syrian territory, Jerusalem and Moscow have in recent years maintained a so-called deconfliction mechanism.
In the words of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the “cooperation mechanism with [Russia] assists in our determined battle against Iranian entrenchment on our northern border.”
In other words, the Russians will not try to interfere with Israeli planes over Syria, as long as they limit themselves to attacking Iranian bases.
This week, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Israel’s exiting air force chief, revealed that the IAF has already lost unrestricted aerial superiority in neighboring Lebanon, where Iran’s proxy Hezbollah is believed to have amassed over 150,000 missiles that can be used in an all-out assault against Israel.
Israel’s loss of “unrestricted” air superiority in Lebanon is terrible news, given the enormous number of missiles – over 150,000 — Hezbollah has acquired, and a great many of which Israel will have to destroy from the air, in any new conflict between Israel and either Hezbollah or Iran, or both. It makes it all the more necessary to hold onto that air superiority in Syria. Russia’s price for continuing to allow Israel that air superiority has been made clear: no Israeli weapons can be sent to Ukraine. It’s a deal Israel has to take. And the world should be understanding of this situation, rather than accusing Israel of being Russia’s “ally.”
Two other recent incidents further illustrate the fragility of Israel’s understandings with Russia, which underpin Jerusalem’s “delicate balancing act” towards the country.
As Russian troops readied to attack Ukraine, the UN Security Council in New York on February 23 gathered to discuss, among other issues, “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.” During the meeting, Russian representative Dmitry Polyanskiy slammed “Tel Aviv’s [sic] announced plans to expand settlement activity in the occupied Golan Heights,” stressing that Moscow does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the area he described as “an integral part of Syria.”
Analysts noted (see, for example, here and here) that Russia’s rebuke of Israel’s control of parts of the Golan came barely two hours after Jerusalem initially weighed in on the looming Russian invasion of Ukraine. Then, on March 11, Russia Today’s Arabic-language website published footage that reportedly showed Russian military police patrolling the Syrian part of the Golan Heights. In the six-minute video, soldiers near Israel’s border can be seen marking armored vehicles with the letter ‘Z’ — understood to be a symbol of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — in what some saw as an ominous message to the Israeli government.…
Russia’s UN ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy gave proof that if Israel criticizes his country, as it did on February 24 just before the invasion began, then Russia has many ways to damage Israel’s diplomatic position. He immediately rejected Israel’s claim of annexation of the Golan, and rebuked Israel for hanging onto that territory, so essential to the Jewish state’s defense. And Russia Today’s website showed Russian soldiers patrolling near the Golan, and other soldiers painting the letter “Z” on armored vehicles, signifying support for Russia’s invasion – a hint that Israel should go and do likewise, or else.
There are many ways for the media to mislead us about Israel’s attitude toward Russia. There are those journalists who claim, with the Lie Direct, that Israel has an “unholy alliance” with Russia, or that Israel is an “ally” of Russia. There are those who keep forgetting to mention Israel’s votes against Russia at the UN, or Prime Minister Bennett denouncing the “massacre” at Bucha, or Foreign Minister Lapid charging Russia with “violating international law” and committing “war crimes.” There are those who overlook the 220 tons of humanitarian aid Israel has sent to Ukraine, and the field hospital it has built inside Ukraine. The 75 percent of journalists who ignore Israel’s ever-precarious position in the region, perpetuated by Iran’s terrorism and expansionism, that puts a unique burden on the Jewish state to not alienate Russia by sending weapons to Ukraine, have scandalously misinformed their audiences. All that the rest of us can do is to keep plugging away, embarrassing those journalists, whenever possible, into revealing the simple truth: the only reason Israel has not, and will not, send weapons to Ukraine, whose side it most definitely is on, is the threat of Russia’s closing Syrian skies to Israeli fighter jets. How hard is that to understand?