[News] Time is Ticking: Israel’s Balancing Act in Ukraine is Likely to Backfire

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Tue Mar 29 07:15:38 EDT 2022


counterpunch.org
<https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/03/29/time-is-ticking-israels-balancing-act-in-ukraine-is-likely-to-backfire/>
Time is Ticking: Israel’s Balancing Act in Ukraine is Likely to
Backfire by Ramzy
Baroud <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/ramzy-baroud/>- March 29, 2022
------------------------------

Ukrainian and Israeli national flags at a community centre in Jerusalem,
following 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photograph Source: רדיומן – CC0
<https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en>

Israel’s balancing act in the Russia-Ukraine war is likely to falter soon,
simply because the resulting NATO-Russia conflict is expected to last for
years, not weeks or months. Eventually, Israel would have to make a choice.
Alas, whatever that choice may be, Israel will stand to lose.

>From the first day of the war, Israel somehow became involved. Top Israeli
officials, including the country’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, began
calling
<https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=naftali+bennett+phones+zelensky+february+2022&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8>
their Ukrainian and Russian counterparts. Initially, some in the media
surmised
<https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-leaders-discuss-russian-invasion-implications-prepare-to-help-ukraine-jews/>
that Israel is concerned because of the large Jewish populations in both
Ukraine and Russia.

However, the headlines quickly moved on, with terms such as ‘Israeli
oligarchs
<https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/14/as-ukraine-war-rages-israel-grapples-with-fate-of-oligarchs>’,
‘Jewish oligarchs
<https://www.timesofisrael.com/russian-jewish-oligarchs-step-down-from-board-of-genesis-group-due-to-sanctions/>’,
and other combinations of Israel-friendly oligarchs dominating the news.
Business interests quickly began replacing the supposed concern over the
safety and welfare of ordinary Ukrainians.

The latter fact was demonstrated in a most tragic way when Israeli Channel
12 reported
<https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/tv-report-ukrainian-arrivals-facing-callous-treatment-at-ben-gurion-airport/>,
on March 10, that many Ukrainian refugees were “stuck at Ben Gurion
Airport, facing cold and callous treatment”.

Israeli hypocrisy reared its ugly head once more on February 26, when
Israeli Minister of Aliyah and Integration, Pnina Tamano-Shata, said
<https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/article-698746> in a statement, “We call on
the Jews of Ukraine to immigrate to Israel – your home.”

It is obvious that Israel does not care about the welfare of Ukrainians or,
frankly, Ukrainian Jews either. After all, these newcomers to Israel would
eventually be incorporated into the country’s illegal settlement
enterprises. We know this from history, and particularly from the history
of the migration of Russian Jews to Israel, who arrived
<https://merip.org/1993/05/russian-jewish-immigration-and-the-future-of-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict/>
in their hundreds of thousands in the early 1990s. Not only do many of them
now reside in illegal Jewish settlements, but to some extent, they also
represent the backbone of some of Israel’s far-right political parties, the
likes of Avigdor Lieberman
<https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/18/five-things-you-need-to-know-about-israels-new-putin-loving-defense-minister/>’s
Yisrael Beiteinu.

Aside from the fact that a country moving its residents to an occupied
territory is a stark violation
<https://www.icrc.org/en/doc/resources/documents/faq/occupation-faq-051010.htm>
of international law, it is also a violation of the rights of these
vulnerable refugees, who will be expected to live in another war zone in
the service of Israel’s Zionist ideology.

It is unfortunate, but typical that Israel finds opportunities to bolster
its settler colonial model in occupied Palestine by exploiting the
tragedies of other societies to its advantage. It has done so many times in
the past: in Ethiopia, following the famine
<https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1985-01-04-mn-6469-story.html> in
1984, in Russia
<https://daviscenter.fas.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/files/2021-04/Tolts%20M.%20A%20Half%20Century%20of%20Jewish%20Emigration%20from%20the%20Former%20Soviet%20Union%20-%20Harvard4%20_0.pdf>,
following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in France, following the Paris
terrorist attacks
<https://www.timesofisrael.com/first-french-jews-immigrate-to-israel-after-paris-attacks/>
in 2015.

While France was still trying to fathom the enormity of its tragedy when
130 people were killed <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34818994> in
broad daylight on November 13, 2015, then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu called
<https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-pm-urges-french-jews-to-immigrate-to-israel-1.5358623>
on French Jews to move to Israel. “Of course, Jews deserve protection in
every country, but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is
your home,” he said
<https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/16/world/middleeast/netanyahu-urges-mass-immigration-of-jews-from-europe.html>
.

Shamelessly, Israel finds tragedies as political opportunities worth
exploiting. While this quality is not unique to Israel – the Russia-Ukraine
war has also exposed the opportunism of other countries around the world –
Israel’s exploitation is doubly shameful as it hopes that war-torn Ukraine
would help it sustain its own war waged against the Palestinian people.

However, serious cracks in the Israeli balancing acts are already on
display. On March 11, US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Victoria Nuland called
<https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-calls-on-israel-to-join-sanctions-against-russia/2533070>
on Israel to join sanctions against Russia. “We’re asking as many countries
as we can to join us. We’re asking that of Israel as well,” she said.

Understandably, much of that pressure is coming from the Ukrainian
government itself. Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly called
<https://www.timesofisrael.com/zelensky-signals-he-expected-greater-israeli-support-ties-tested-in-times-of-need/>
on Israel to reciprocate for the Ukrainian support of Israel during its
genocidal wars on the Palestinians. Indeed, Zelensky has taken every
opportunity to express his solidarity with Israel in the past, even though
Palestinians were the ones dying in their thousands.

“The sky of Israel is strewn with missiles. Some cities are on fire. There
are victims. Many wounded. Many human tragedies,” the Ukrainian President
tweeted
<https://twitter.com/ZelenskyyUa/status/1392476828447776772?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1392476828447776772%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.palestinechronicle.com%2Fpro-israel-zelensky-laments-bennetts-lack-of-support-you-are-not-wrapped-in-ukrainian-flag%2F>
on May 12, 2021. Even during his inauguration speech in May 2019, Zelensky
did not forget to bring Israel into his budding political discourse. “We
must become Icelanders in soccer, Israelis in defending our land, Japanese
in technology,” he said <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48330955>.

Still, aside from the occasional lip service, Israel insisted on remaining
largely neutral. Analysts have explained the Israeli position in terms of
Israel’s concern over Russia’s possible retaliation
<https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-02-03/russia-ukraine-israel-should-remain-neutral>
in Syria, for example, by allowing Iran greater geopolitical access to
Syria that may compromise Israel’s ‘security.’ Others cited Israel’s deep
financial interests, especially through the aforementioned oligarchs.
Whatever the reasons may be, pressure is mounting on Israel to completely
abandon its interests in Russia in favor of fully supporting Ukraine.

On March 20, Zelensky upped the ante when he gave a speech at the Israeli
Knesset. Not only did the Ukrainan President ask
<https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/article-701817> for Israel to provide
Ukraine with an Iron Dome similar to the one that Tel Aviv uses to
intercept Palestinian resistance rockets, he went much further, by infusing
<https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-lawmakers-tear-into-zelensky-for-holocaust-comparisons-in-knesset-speech/>
the Holocaust, an extremely sensitive discourse that only Israeli officials
are allowed to use – and, indeed, manipulate – to silence any criticism of
Israel internationally.

“The Nazis called this ‘the final solution to the Jewish question,’”
Zelensky said
<https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-scathing-speech-zelensky-pleads-with-israel-to-prevent-russias-final-solution/>.
“And now, in Moscow, (…) they’re using those words, ‘the final solution’.
But now, it’s directed against us and the Ukrainian question.”

For the Ukrainian president, although himself Jewish, to dare strike such a
historical parallel to serve his country’s interests outraged many
Israelis. “I admire the Ukraine president and support the Ukrainian people
in heart and deed, but the terrible history of the Holocaust cannot be
rewritten,” Israeli Communications Minister, Yoaz Hendel, tweeted
<https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/israeli-lawmakers-seethe-at-zelenskys-outrageous-holocaust-comparisons/>.
Many others joined in, in Israel and the US, attacking Zelenky’s supposed
audacity.

Aside from its fear that injecting the Holocuast as part of Ukraine’s
anti-Russian discourse could deprive Israel from its monopoly over the use
and misuse of that historic tragedy, the Israeli official response to
Zelensky also further exposed Israel’s stance on the war as defensive,
suspicious and uncertain.

As the war rages on, Israel’s balancing act is becoming increasingly
unsustainable. By allying fully with Ukraine, Israel could find itself at
risk of losing Russia’s somewhat tolerant position pertaining to Israel’s
‘security’ in Syria and throughout the Middle East. Israel could also
likely find itself at odds with Russia’s allies and semi-allies in China,
India and other Asian countries. However, taking Russia’s side, a less
likely scenario, means a break up of Israel’s historic alliance with its
main benefactors in Washington and other European capitals.

As the world is likely to splinter among various power camps, Israel will
find itself torn between its interests in the West, on the one hand, and
the massive, emerging markets in the East, on the other. Though the West’s
margin for tolerance when it comes to Israel by far exceeds its patience
with other countries, it is only a matter of time before Israel will be
expected to make a clean break from Russia and its economic, political and
military interests that are tied to Moscow. When that happens, the
geopolitical balance of power in the Middle East will likely shift against
Israel, a scenario that would become even more difficult for Tel Aviv if
Iran manages to negotiate a return to the nuclear deal
<https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/7/final-stage-of-vienna-talks-on-irans-nuclear-deal-to-resume>
with the US and its western allies.

Though from the onset, Israel attempted to exploit the Russia-Ukraine war
to its advantage, future scenarios are quite bleak for Tel Aviv.

*Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He
is the author of five books. His latest is “**These Chains Will Be Broken*
<https://www.amazon.com/These-Chains-Will-Broken-Palestinian/dp/1949762092>*:
Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity
Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the
Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU).
His website is **www.ramzybaroud.net* <http://www.ramzybaroud.net/>
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