Israel reacts to the Ukrainian crisis: Tel Aviv’s political manoeuvres

Israel reacts to the Ukrainian crisis: Tel Aviv’s political manoeuvres

Sergey Ivanov, Head of the Department of Diplomacy and Consular Service at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy

In many countries, public and media attention is focused on the events in and around Ukraine. Adjusting their actions to the situation, some political analysts and journalists have become “experts on Ukraine” and Russian-Ukrainian relations. At the same time, politicians in the West and allied countries in other parts of the world, seeking to improve their ratings, are making rash and ill-considered statements in the hope of achieving immediate results. They don’t give a thought to the fact that their statements might be counterproductive or could have a negative impact on a settlement in Ukraine.

One striking example of this was the recent statement made by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who said that there was “no justification” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As they say, a word spoken is past recalling, and serious politicians, especially at such a high level as Minister Lapid, have no right to talk idly. They should be aware of the possible consequences of what they say, including with regard to relations with Russia.

It is especially regrettable that these ill-considered statements have not been made by a Western official (Russians have long become immune to what they say) but by the Foreign Minister of Israel, a major regional partner with which Russia has a decades-long history of multifaceted relations. Moreover, these statements could undermine trust in Israel as a country that wanted to mediate the settlement of the crisis around Ukraine, which is evident from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s actions, such as calls to President Vladimir Putin, a visit to Moscow and contacts on this issue with the main players.

Regrettably, this is taking place despite the positive experience of our cooperation, when Russia helped Israel deal with extremely delicate matters on numerous occasions. In 2018, Moscow’s contribution helped convince pro-Iranian paramilitary forces in the Golan Heights to move back to a safe distance for Israel. In 2019, in Syria, Russia found the remains of an Israeli soldier who had died during the 1982 Lebanon War and transported the body to Israel. In 2020, President Vladimir Putin pardoned Israeli citizen Naama Issachar, who had been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for drug trafficking. There were also other delicate episodes where Russia met Israel halfway.

Our country, which knows about the threat of terrorism from its own experience, has always expressed sympathy and unconditional solidarity in connection with the terrorist attacks which, regrettably, happen regularly in Israel. Russian society was outraged by the terrorist attacks that were staged in Israel in late March 2022. The Foreign Ministry of Russia expressed condolences to the victims’ families.

In this context, it is all the more strange to hear anti-Russia statements from the Foreign Minister of Israel – the country that has been largely responsible, over many decades, for the failure to achieve a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is one of the lingering regional problems that continues to affect the lives of millions of people and their futures, as well as international security. The unsettled crisis also plays into the hands of international terrorists, fuels extremist sentiment and serves as a constant source of tension in the Middle East and beyond.

Let us briefly recall the background, and also highlight the roles of the main players.

In any conflict, it is often difficult to find the one perpetrator. The picture of the Middle East crisis is complex, multidimensional and ambiguous.

However, it is difficult to deny that one of the main obstacles to achieving a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem (envisioning two states in the former British Mandate of Palestine: the State of Israel based on the borders as of the 1967 “six-day war” and an independent State of Palestine on the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip) was Israel's disregard for the right of the Palestinian people to form their own independent state. The Israelis are not demonstrating any interest in resolving the conflict within the generally recognised international legal framework but pursuing a policy of creating irreversible realities on the ground, primarily Jewish settlements and related infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian territories.

For decades, Israel has been continuously expanding its military and administrative presence in areas where, according to UN resolutions and international law, a Palestinian state was to be established. As a result of this policy, more than 630,000 Jewish settlers now live west of the Jordan River. An extensive network of roads, hospitals, checkpoints and communities guarded by the Israeli military has been built there for them – some replacing the destroyed buildings of Arab residents. At the same time, the Palestinian territories are turning into a patchwork of disparate enclaves.

Even according to Western human rights groups, which take an overtly biased stance on most problems, promoting the Anglo-Saxon agenda, Israel's actions are reminiscent of the apartheid regime, which ruled South Africa until 1994. Over 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank are crammed into scattered areas and are effectively isolated from each other by a system of motorways. The Israeli authorities are pursuing a deliberate policy of confiscating Palestinian lands, as well as demolishing Palestinian buildings on a regular basis.

The situation regarding the Gaza Strip deserves special attention. It is a rather unique example from the historical, political, and demographic perspectives. In fact, 80 percent of the people living in one of the world’s most densely populated areas, where some 2 million people share an area of 362 square kilometres, found themselves there against their will. They are refugees chased from their ancestral lands. In fact, most of the people living there were forced into a reservation. They are like prisoners in a huge prison under an open sky, fenced off for many years by Israel’s impenetrable sea, air and almost complete overland blockade.

The Israelis seek to keep this enclave under their control, which regularly gives rise to intense confrontations with Gaza residents. The elderly, people with disabilities, women and children suffer disproportionately from the use of force by Israel.

In 2009, Israel carried out Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, which killed over 1,300 Palestinians, including some 300 children, with more than 5,000 wounded, while Israel had just 13 casualties, including 10 army personnel and three civilians, with 150 wounded. This gives us a 1 to 100 ratio in terms of casualties.

In 2012, Operation Pillar of Defence, also known as Operation Pillar of Cloud, cost the lives to 161 Palestinians, and left 1,200 wounded. The Israeli strikes hit 1,800 targets, devastating Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. Israel lost five people during the operation, and over 90 were wounded.

In the summer of 2014, Gaza went through its bloodiest conflict, which lasted for 50 days, resulting in the deaths of 2,251 Palestinians, including 299 women and 551 children. More than 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza were wounded, and more than 1,500 were permanently disabled.

Powerful media resources are being used to conceal the true state of affairs and suppress objective information on what is going on in and around Gaza. Israeli and Western political spin-doctors, mostly from the United States, use a wide array of methods to manipulate media coverage and spread false and misleading concepts and stereotypes.

This is how the situation is in reality: numerous documents released by UN experts and Middle Eastern think tanks show that following the 15-year blockade, the humanitarian situation for the people of Gaza is on the verge of collapse, with food, fuel and medical supplies reduced to the bare minimum necessary for people to survive there.

Against the backdrop of Israeli occupation, the Palestinian people have been suffering for decades as a result of Israel’s discriminatory economic policy. The Israeli authorities use all possible means to retain full control over the Palestinian territories, as well as their physical assets, fuel, media and human resources. Israel has fully assimilated the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into its economy, with the shekel used as the primary currency on Palestinian territories.

Customs duties from imports into Palestine through the Israeli borders account for a significant share of the Palestinian budget due to dwindling aid from international donors. The Israelis have been using this to their advantage since they control seaports, as well as logistics checkpoints and border crossings on land. Even minor protests by ordinary Palestinians or a diplomatic protest by their representatives on the international stage regularly result in Israel cutting off these meagre funds that Palestine has every right to receive. This leads to salaries being delayed for many months and the Palestinian population sliding deeper into poverty and towards radicalisation.

Let us take a look at how the current Israeli leadership is approaching the Palestinian problem. The prime minister and other Cabinet members have repeatedly made it clear, ever since the coalition was formed in June 2021, that they were unwilling and thought it “inexpedient” to negotiate the final status with the Palestinians.

In this context, it was emphasised that the creation of an independent and territorially continuous State of Palestine was not even under consideration. Aimed at perpetuating the present-day status quo in the shape of the longest-lasting postwar occupation, this policy is conducted with the tacit connivance on the part of the United States, Israel’s chief overseas partner and patron. Any attempts to resume the peace process and re-launch the Israeli-Palestinian talks, including within the framework of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, have been blocked under various pretexts by the United States, eager to please Tal Aviv. 

Neither does Israel have peace with Lebanon. With that country, it has failed to settle matters such as their land and maritime border, division of water resources, and the repatriation of several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees, who have found refuge in Lebanon. Following Israel’s large-scale blood-letting offensive war against Lebanon in 2006, Israeli aircraft continue their regular incursions into that Arab country’s airspace, incursions that flagrantly violate its sovereignty and UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Specifically, the UN Secretary-General’s report of March 11, 2022, says that between October 26, 2021, and February 18, 2022, the UN peacekeepers recorded 131 Israeli flights with a total duration of 197 hours 45 minutes, which constituted violations of Lebanese airspace. 

Since the period of Arab-Israeli wars, Israel has failed to reach peace with Syria. Since 1967, it has occupied the Syrian Golan Heights. In keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 497 (1981), the law on extending the Israeli jurisdiction to the Golan Heights, passed by the Knesset in December 1981, cannot be regarded as legitimate. This document, like President Donald Trump’s 2019 decision recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, is an indisputable and blatant violation of international legal norms.  

Moreover, under the pretext of ensuring its national security, Israel has for several years delivered air strikes at targets in the SAR, this on top of the existing differences with Damascus.  These actions grossly violate international law, trample upon Syria’s sovereignty, and run the risk of further escalating confrontation in the region. They have repeatedly led to Syrian civilian casualties, including among children, not to mention the damage done to the combat potential of the Syrian armed forces and accordingly to the efficacy of their efforts to eliminate the terrorist presence on Syrian soil.  

Attacks by the Israeli Air Force are directly threatening the Russian military personnel who are providing assistance to the legitimate Syrian authorities in their fight against terrorism. Fifteen Russian officers were killed in an air strike on a Syrian facility in Latakia on September 17, 2018. Israel wrongfully believes that the incident has been forgotten. However, even after that tragedy, on multiple occasions, Israeli pilots on combat missions in Syrian and Lebanese airspace used civilian aircraft as shields, thus putting them in great danger. And once again, we are hearing the same claims that the air raids are to eliminate threats to Israel’s national security.

Essentially, we are witnessing a number of states, such as Israel and, obviously, its main ally, the United States, bestowing on themselves the right to a certain immunity when it comes to international law. For many years, they have been ignoring mandatory UN Security Council resolutions and other decisions by the United Nations, interpreting the fundamental principles of international law and multilateral agreements as they see fit. And, in the case of Washington, they have been condoning similar conduct by their allies.

It seems appropriate to once again mention the sanctions that have become the main foreign policy tool of the collective West these days. Against the will of the international community, Tel Aviv has managed to avoid and continues to avoid various restrictions that could have been imposed against it for the systematic violation of the will of the majority of countries. This would have been impossible without total support from the United States.

Back to Yair Lapid’s statement in the context of the recent events around Ukraine, specifically that “war is not the way to resolve conflicts.” Perhaps, in this case, the Israeli leadership will consider immediately starting talks with Palestine, in order to implement the UN’s two-state solution? Or maybe the foreign minister of Israel, who said that “the Russian attack on Ukraine is a grave violation of the international order,” could review the foundations of this order, for educational purposes?

He may remember that this order stands on the UN Charter and the decisions of the UN and primarily its Security Council. Perhaps it would be helpful for Israel to take a look at its own conduct with a bit of healthy self-criticism before it allows itself to comment on how Russia defends its legitimate security interests.

We regret the fact that Israeli politicians have made irresponsible and emotional statements at a time when a reasonable, well-thought-out and objective approach is required. It is not appropriate for Israel and still less the United States, which resort to sabre-rattling instead of talks, to tell Russia what to do. Nor should they lecture us on international law or reproach us for using force to resolve national security matters.

For Israel, it would also be useful to recall that Washington’s logic  ̵ “What is permissible for Jupiter may not be permissible for a bull” ̵ has already failed to pass the test of time. One would also like to ask Israeli officials whether they have any misgivings about the fact that the United States, their main ally, and Ukraine, which the Israeli foreign minister so staunchly defends, are the only ones to vote against the UN General Assembly’s annual resolution on combatting the glorification of Nazism? Would Mr Yair Lapid like to say anything on this score?

Perhaps the foreign minister would like to comment on the following matter. On March 30, the international community received evidence showing how the Kiev regime is using synagogues to stockpile weapons and gather neo-Nazis to be sent to the war zone. They did not even shy away from using buses, marked with signs saying “Children”, for these purposes. A member of the Jewish community in Uman, Ukraine, provided this information. We are looking forward to Mr Lapid’s response on this subject and possibly a reconsideration of his approach and admission of the inappropriateness of his statements.

In our opinion, it is blasphemous for Israel to voice support for the Kiev regime, which has openly started Nazifying all aspects of state and public life, and it is impossible to interpret Mr Lapid’s words in any other way. This betrays the memory of numerous Jews who were tortured to death by Bandera’s henchmen in Babiy Yar and in other locations in Ukraine, Poland and Belarus. We hope that Tel Aviv will modify its rhetoric in this connection, and that it will objectively assess the Kiev regime’s persistent neo-Nazi practices.

At this time of radical transformation of the world order, an opportunistic approach pandering to the Russophobic western line is an extremely near-sighted tactic. This could impair interaction with one of the 21st century’s global centres of power and development and a country that continues to play a highly important role in world affairs, including efforts to facilitate international security in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

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