Israel may not remain neutral in war as Moscow strengthens ties to Iran

by Chris Lange

 Chris Lange, FISM News


Cracks have begun to appear in Israel’s resolve to avoid involvement in Russia’s war on Ukraine in the face of Moscow’s deepening ties with Tehran, the capital of one of Israel’s most powerful enemies.

Though Israel has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it has so far denied Kyiv’s repeated requests to send in air defense systems and levy economic sanctions on Jewish-Russian oligarchs. That could soon change.

The Israeli government has been keen on maintaining its strategic relationship with Russia, but one official said it can no longer stay on the sidelines of the conflict now that Iran is supplying Russia with weapons. 

“This morning it was reported that Iran is transferring ballistic missiles to Russia,” Nachman Shai, Israel’s minister of diaspora affairs, wrote on Twitter Monday. “There is no longer any doubt where Israel should stand in this bloody conflict. The time has come for Ukraine to receive military aid as well, just as the U.S.A. and NATO countries provide,” he declared.

Tehran has previously threatened to use its HESA Shahed 136 drones on Israel — the same “kamikaze” drones Iran is now supplying to Russia, along with other weapons. Kremlin forces have used the weapons in a series of successful strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and residential buildings in recent weeks, drawing fierce condemnation from Ukraine and its Western allies and potentially forcing Israel to pick a side in the conflict. 

Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a spokesman for Israel’s military, acknowledged this week that the drone attacks in Ukraine have become a cause for concern, The Associated Press reported.

“We’re looking at it closely and thinking about how [the drones] can be used by the Iranians toward Israeli population centers,” he said.

The Kremlin responded with a warning. Former Russian President and Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev said that a decision by Israel to provide military aid to Ukraine would be “a very reckless move.”

“It will destroy all interstate relations between our countries,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Undeterred, Shai doubled down on Tuesday.

“We in Israel have a lot of experience in protecting our civilian population over 30 years. We’ve been attacked by missiles from Iraq and rockets from Lebanon and Gaza,” he told the AP. “I’m speaking about defense equipment to protect Ukraine’s civilian population.”

The former military spokesman was careful to stress that his opinion is not a reflection of the official position of the Israeli government, which Defense Minister Benny Gantz confirmed on Wednesday.

“The policy towards Ukraine will not change. We will continue to support it and stand by the West. We will not supply weapons,” he told EU Ambassadors at a gathering in Tel Aviv.

Gantz did say that Israel offered to provide Kyiv with advanced aerial threat warning systems, according to a Haaretz Daily report. The article suggested that the offer was prompted by a statement made by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba that Kyiv is planning to officially ask Israel for air defense systems.

While Israel had previously condemned the Russian invasion, it strictly limited assistance to Ukraine to humanitarian relief, citing a need for continued cooperation with Moscow over Syria. Israel and Russia have coordinated efforts to avert possible run-ins over the skies of Israel’s war-ravaged neighbor as the Kremlin continues its efforts to prop up Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad with air power. Israel is also concerned about the safety of a large Jewish community living in Russia, fearing that military assistance to Ukraine will result in antisemitic attacks. 

Unlike his predecessor, Israel’s newly installed Prime Minister Yair Lapid has openly condemned Russia over atrocities it committed against Ukrainians in Bucha discovered after Russian troops withdrew from the region. More recently, Lapid angered Moscow by criticizing its recent rush-hour drone attacks on commuters in Kyiv.

In another sign that Israel’s stance on the war may be changing, former Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky openly derided his country’s perceived cowardice in joining the West to help Ukraine.

During an interview with the Haaretz Daily on Tuesday, he referred to Israel as “the last country in the free world which is still afraid to irritate Putin.”