Placing Israel’s Position on Ukraine in Context

March 9 2022

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.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Barack Obama, Israel diplomacy, Syrian civil war, War in Ukraine

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia