Israel Must Constantly Examine and Balance its Policies Between the US and Russia: JISS Report

By ARIE EGOZI

Foreign Affairs

Tel Aviv: Israel is facing a serious dilemma – in case Russia invades the Ukraine, what position should Jerusalem take to keep its “special relations” with the US intact.

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New satellite images show Russia continues to gather its forces near the Ukrainian border in recent weeks. Reuter reported that it could not independently verify the images from US-based Maxar Technologies, showing new deployments of hundreds of armoured vehicles and tanks in annexed Crimea. Meanwhile, a high-ranking Ukrainian official claimed his country controls the situation, and that escalation is not imminent.

According to a paper prepared by Col.(Res.) Danial Rakov, an expert on Russian issues and a former officer in the IDF Intelligence Corps for the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, Moscow has put forward a series of public demands for the West, focusing on reaching legally binding agreements to halt NATO expansion and the deployment of weapons systems in neighbouring countries that Russia perceives as a security threat. It also demanded dealing with the approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany and its diplomatic representation vis-à-vis the US.

The negotiations underway between Moscow and Washington on nuclear weapons control and cyber weapons are expected to resume on January 10, focusing on the new Russian demands regarding NATO expansion and offensive weapons deployment.

“If Russia invades Ukraine, the United States and Western countries threaten to raise unprecedented political and economic costs on Moscow. Still, there is no Western intention to enter a military confrontation with Russia.

Israel is far from the Ukrainian arena and is incapable of accurately assessing Russia’s intentions of invading. Currently, the Israeli government evades dealing with this crisis that might deepen its dilemma regarding relations with Russia, and more broadly, its approach to competition between the major powers.”

According to the paper, Jerusalem has forged a unique path in international relations in recent years. It does not confront Moscow publicly on the Ukrainian issue and refrains from joining Western collective punitive measures against Russia (sanctions, political isolation, and deportation of spies).

“But, on the other hand, the West also shows an understanding of Israel’s need to talk to the Kremlin, especially considering the neighbourly relations between Israel and Russia following Moscow’s military intervention in the 2015 civil war in Syria. Israel-Russia relations are at an all-time high, and in the last thirty years, have developed considerably compared to the Soviet period.”

The paper points to the fact that Russia allows Israel military freedom of action against Iran and its proxies in Syria. It makes gestures, such as returning the remains of US-born Israeli soldier Zachariah Baumel, who went missing in the battle of Sultan Yacoub.

Russia expects Israel to help it reach political agreements in the Middle East in cooperation with the United States. Israel has a population of over one million Russian speakers, serving as a cultural bridge between the countries. Bilateral trade is about two to three billion dollars a year. Russia also values Israel’s positive stance on the role of the Red Army in World War II and its fighting against Nazi Germany.

“If the crisis between Russia and Ukraine escalates, Israel would be compelled to adjust its current policy. The Biden administration and its Western allies could pressure Israel more rigorously than in the past to publicly take a side and join the Western camp condemning Russia.”

The researcher says that Israel’s refusal to do so would add to a series of disagreements with Washington over the Iranian nuclear program, the Palestinian issue, offensive cyber exports, and more.

“At the same time, Israel must constantly examine and balance its policies between the US and Russia. While the United States is focused on the Chinese threat, it is withdrawing from the Middle East.”