Last week, while interviewing former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour predictably called out Israel for failing to “read Putin the riot act.” Amanpour proceeded to ask Cohen why Israel did not sign on to a February 25 U.S.-led resolution condemning Russia at the UN Security Council. While acknowledging Israel’s conflict of interest, Cohen pivoted and insisted that Israel must ask itself whether “it is with the Russians or with the United States.” Indeed, after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas Greenfield “passed a message” admonishing Israel’s Ambassador Gilad Erdan for the ill-advised decision, Israel reversed course and on March 2 voted alongside 141 nations at the United Nations to condemn the ruthless Putin. Last month, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a stalwart defender of the Jewish state, reprimanded Israel on Fox News over its apparent refusal to sell Ukraine Stinger missiles. And veteran Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller quipped that “Israel is America’s closest Middle East ally. Biden Should Expect Bennett to act like it.” Perhaps most heart-wrenching are the calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky whose repudiation of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last Thursday included the embattled leader remarking that he feels Bennett is not “wrapped in our (Ukrainian) flag.”
Israel’s measured response to Russian aggression reflects events in 2013 when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed a “red line” set down by Obama and used chemical weapons against his citizens.
In fairness, Israel is fulfilling its moral duty by evacuating thousands of refugees from Ukraine and providing humanitarian assistance. Over the last week, Israel has sent disaster relief teams to set up a field hospital while also shipping 100 tons of supplies to help aid Ukrainian citizens. Israel is also set to absorb thousands of new Ukrainian immigrants.
The delicacy with which Israel views its position in the region was evidenced last Saturday when Bennett broke the Jewish Sabbath to make a surprise visit to Moscow and Berlin, where he met with Putin and Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz. While Bennett’s mediation efforts involved speaking to Zelensky throughout his trip, the Ukrainian President is correct, asserting that Israel is reticent in throwing its weight behind Ukraine. Rather than draped in a Ukrainian flag, Bennett is currently cloaked in fear surrounding events in Vienna, where American and Russian negotiators comprising the P5 + 1 are close to reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. Reports from Vienna portend that the resuscitated deal is worse than the agreement made during the Obama administration. Under consideration are added sweeteners for Iran, including the State Department removing the terrorist designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and allowing Iran access to over $100 billion in sanctions relief. Not only do events in Ukraine distract from Biden’s appeasement campaign to bring Iran closer to a nuclear weapon, but it is also precisely because of feckless policies implemented under Obama and Biden that Israel now finds itself in a Russian regional quagmire with Iran on the cusp of becoming a nuclear power.
Israel’s measured response to Russian aggression reflects events in 2013 when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed a “red line” set down by Obama and used chemical weapons against his citizens. Rather than respond militarily as he promised he would, Obama permitted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to strike a deal with Russia and grant Moscow the authority to “remove and destroy” Assad’s weapons.” As Andrew Koss writes in MosaicMagazine.com, the U.S. entrusting Russia with disposing of Syria’s weapons “soon grew to an all-out intervention,” with Russian forces now in control of airspace to Israel’s north. Today, a deconfliction mechanism is in place whereby Israel coordinates with Moscow when it wants to attack terrorist targets on its border with Syria. Israel can maintain its operational freedom and hamper Iranian proxies while refraining from direct conflict with Russian forces.
The Obama administration’s ceding of control to Russia dramatized America’s disengagement from the region. This display of weakness granted Putin the latitude to invade Crimea in 2014 and served as the backdrop to the 2015 Iran nuclear framework. It also left Israel little choice but to cultivate a working relationship with the Russians, who now sat to their north. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understood the paradigm shift and sought to maximize the benefits to Israel’s security. Netanyahu visited Moscow 17 times during his tenure while refusing to impose sanctions against Putin following his Crimean invasion. Today, Biden’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal has hardened Putin’s resolve to increase his sphere of influence and is emboldening Iran to extract additional concessions out of western negotiators in Vienna.
In a speech, foreign policy analyst Michael Doran aptly states that there are two types of American Presidents: those who see Israel as a strategic asset and those who view Israel as a strategic liability. One only has to refer to a 1982 Senate foreign relations committee hearing to recognize that Biden views Israel as the latter. It was there that a young Senator Biden sought fit to lecture and embarrass 68-year-old Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin over U.S. assistance to Israel and the “erosion” of American support. Israel’s friendship with the U.S. is based on admiration and rooted in history. Yet it is the strategic errors of American liberal lawmakers that now require Israel, for the sake of its security, to engage in a purposeful and perhaps uncomfortable strategy of not provoking Russia while still retaining its moral character.
Irit Tratt is a writer who resides in New York. Her work has been published in The American Spectator, the Jerusalem Post, the Algemeiner, JNS, and Israel Hayom.