JERUSALEM (AP) – The Iranian-made drones that Russia sent to central Kyiv this week have complicated Israel’s balancing act between Russia and the West.
Israel has largely remained aloof since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February so as not to damage its strategic relationship with the Kremlin. Although Israel has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it has refused Kiev’s frequent requests to send air defense systems and other military equipment, and has refrained from enforcing tough economic sanctions on Russia and the many Russian-Jewish oligarchs who have second homes in Israel .
But with news of Moscow’s deepening ties with Tehran, Israel’s sworn enemy, pressure is mounting for Israel to support Ukraine in the grueling war. Israel has long been waging a shadowy war with Iran in the Middle East by land, sea and air.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesman, said the drone strike in Ukraine has sparked new concerns in Israel.
“We are looking at this closely and thinking about how these can be used by the Iranians towards Israeli population centers,” he said.
The debate erupted openly on Monday when a minister in Israel’s cabinet called on the government to side with Ukraine. Iran and its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen have threatened Israel with the same delta-shaped, low-flying Shahed drones now exploding in Kyiv.
The Iranian government has denied providing Moscow with the drones, but American officials say they have been doing so since August.
“There is no longer any doubt as to where Israel should stand in this bloody conflict,” Nachman Shai, Israel’s minister for diaspora affairs, wrote on Twitter. “It’s about time Ukraine received military aid, just like the US and NATO countries are doing.”
His comments caused a storm in Russia. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Telegram that providing military aid to Ukraine would be “a very reckless move” by Israel.
“It will destroy all interstate relations between our countries,” he wrote.
But Shai doubled down on Tuesday while stressing that his view does not reflect the government’s official stance.
“We in Israel have a lot of experience in protecting our civilian population for over 30 years. We were attacked by missiles from Iraq and missiles from Lebanon and Gaza,” Shai, a former military spokesman, told The Associated Press. “I’m talking about defense equipment to protect Ukrainian civilians.”
Both the Israeli prime minister’s office and the defense ministry declined to comment.
For years Russia and Israel have enjoyed good working ties, working closely together to avoid clashes in the skies over Syria, Israel’s northeastern neighbor, where the Russian air force has been supporting embattled President Bashar Assad. Russia has allowed Israeli jets to bomb Iran-linked targets that are said to be weapons caches destined for Israel’s enemies.
Israel was also keen to remain neutral in the war because of concerns for the safety of Russia’s large Jewish community. Israel is concerned about renewed anti-Semitic attacks in the country with its long history of anti-Jewish pogroms under Russian tsars and Soviet-era purges. Over 1 million of Israel’s 9.2 million residents have roots in the former Soviet Union.
Israel’s former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett maintained strict neutrality after the invasion, did not condemn Russia’s actions and even tried to position himself as a mediator in the conflict. When the US and European Union imposed sanctions on Russia, Bennett was the only Western leader to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
But in recent months, Israel’s cautious stance has become more strained.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who took over as interim leader in the summer, was more vocal than his predecessor. As foreign minister, he denounced reports of atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine, as possible war crimes. After Russia bombed Kyiv last week, he “strongly condemned” the attacks and offered “his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the Ukrainian people,” sparking a backlash from Moscow.
Tensions rose further when a Russian court ordered in July that the Jewish Agency, a large non-profit organization that promotes Jewish immigration to Israel, close its offices in the country. Israel was shaken. A hearing to decide on the future of the agency’s activities in Russia is scheduled for Wednesday. “Anything can happen,” said Yigal Palmor, the agency’s spokesman.
Now Israeli concern over Iranian drones hovering over Kyiv has intensified the debate.
“I think Israel can help even more,” said Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israel’s military intelligence. He described Israel’s “knowledge of how to deal with airstrikes,” its “intelligence on Iranian weapons,” and “ability to block them” as potentially critical to Ukraine.
Iran is testing weapons that could be used against Israel’s northern and southern borders, argued Geoffrey Corn, a martial law expert at the South Texas College of Law in Houston.
Iran backs the militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza – both of which have waged long wars against Israel.
If the drones prove effective in Ukraine, Iran will “double their development,” Corn said. If they are shot down, Iran will have “an opportunity to figure out how to circumvent those countermeasures.”
Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system boasts a 90 percent interception rate against rocket fire from Gaza. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has attacked Israel for failing to provide Kyiv with a missile defense system.
Former Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident, slammed his country’s reluctance to help Ukraine in an interview with Haaretz daily on Tuesday, deriding Israel as “the last country in the free world that always… is still afraid of irritating Putin”.
However, some insist that Israel must not intervene in the struggle precisely because it differs from its Western allies.
“We are not Germany or France,” said Uzi Rubin, a former head of Israel’s missile defense program. “We are a country at war.”
Associated Press writers Eleanor Reich and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
https://news.yahoo.com/russias-iranian-drones-complicate-israels-065322132.html Russia’s Iranian drones complicate Israel’s balancing act