Israel’s recent decision not to co-sponsor a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was met with fierce criticism. Despite its unwillingness to sign the resolution, though, Israel has sent substantial humanitarian aid to Ukraine and has denounced Russia’s actions in the UN General Assembly. Natan Sharansky traces the factors that led Israel to attempt to “hew a cautious path” between Ukraine and Russia, arguing that former president Barack Obama’s “lack of moral clarity . . . forced Israel to become [overly] dependent on Mr. Putin.”
How did this happen? The first major development was President Obama’s disastrous response to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. In 2012 Mr. Obama declared chemical weapons to be a “red line” in the Syrian conflict, the factor that would lead him to use military force against Mr. Assad. In 2013 reports surfaced of a devastating chemical-weapons attack in the rebel-controlled suburbs of Damascus. Hundreds of civilians were killed. Yet the Obama administration delayed action and the momentum for a military intervention faded, leading to a massive humanitarian crisis.
Mr. Putin saw the U.S. retreat in Syria as a sign of weakness and exploited the opportunity to advance his project of renewing Russia’s great-power status. In 2014 he invaded Crimea. In 2015 he established a military base in Khmeimim, Syria, and began air strikes to support Mr. Assad’s forces there. Both maneuvers provided him with an opportunity to test his military strength. His presence in Syria further ensured that the keys to Syrian airspace would remain in his hands.
The next development in the U.S. abdication of moral leadership was the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The agreement neglected to demand that Iran respect human rights and end its support for global terrorism in exchange for billions of dollars in cash. A significant portion of these funds went to Hizballah, which in turn managed to transform itself from a partisan group into an army, building bases in Syria and continuing its operations there and in Lebanon.
Israel had no choice but to reach a strategic agreement with Russia to fight against Iran and its proxies. In protecting itself from terrorist aggression, Israel must consider Russia’s presence in Syria and secure Mr. Putin’s agreement for airstrikes against targets there. This arrangement, which began under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, renders Israel dependent on Russia’s goodwill even now, during Mr. Putin’s worst aggressions to date.