The expectation that Israel could be a potential interlocutor between Russia and Ukraine is a mere illusion. Not only does this fierce bloody military conflict trespasses Israel’s capacity to deal with, but mediation efforts also need a non-biased stakeholder who can get the belligerent parties closer together. Israel does not possess this leverage.
The reason is straightforward. Israel cannot afford to jump on and back both sides. It is uninterrupted, and continues high-level coordination with Moscow regarding developments in Syria, and this remains a top national security priority. Moscow can stop all such coordination and allow for the growth of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah, and other Iranian- backed militias in Syria without exerting any effort to stop it. It is not a suitable situation for Israel.
It is a predicament.
Ever since the Russians became directly involved in the Syrian battlefield in 2015 and quickly became the sole hegemonic power in that country due to the Western retreat from ousting Bashar al-Assad, Israel has gained open air space to strike both Iranian Hezbollah targets. Though supposedly allied with Iran, the Russians never stopped these strikes. Moscow instead exploited the Israeli airstrikes to limit Iran’s mushrooming power and influence in Syria.
Of course, the Syrian regime has retained its right to retaliate against the Israeli continued violation of its sovereignty. It never really struck back or even attempted to liberate the Golan Heights, which was not only occupied by the Israelis decades ago but also annexed to mainland Israel based on laws (though illegitimate) issued by the Knesset. It was simply shallow repeated rhetoric for decades.
The three-hour meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Kremlin was only an attempt by the former to break the imposed Western isolation since the eruption of his war with Kyiv.
On the Ukrainian side, President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the Israeli mediation efforts to resolve the conflict and his willingness to travel to Jerusalem for any direct peace talks with the Russians. But, this did not remove the disappointment of restricting Israeli support to humanitarian aid rather than military.
Bennett could profit politically, both locally inside Israel and internationally, if he presented himself as a global leader capable of mediating to resolve one of the most brutal and complicated conflicts of the century. He needs this moment to prove himself. Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, came to office, where he remained for more than ten years, and toured the world several times to foster Israel’s foreign relations. Netanyahu’s electoral campaign pictured him with world leaders, including Putin, and was spread on billboards in Tel Aviv and elsewhere.
Israel’s strategic position is to stand with Moscow, if not publically, at least implicitly. It can follow-up on the security of this community from a humanitarian rather than a political standpoint. The 200,000 Jews in Ukraine will always be welcomed in Israel and granted citizenship according to the law of return.
Both Israel’s support and its UN voting right to acquiesce with the United States and the Western countries against the Russian invasion are sufficient to prove that Jerusalem is standing by the side of Ukraine in this conflict.
It can maneuver itself in the United Nations General Assembly to give the impression that it thinks what Russia has done is wrong, following the stance with this position taken recently by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. For Israel, the biggest issue it faces in it attempts to mediate while giving the impression of neutrality is that it is not morally well-positioned to mediate a peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine. Israel should avoid mediation between any two countries for that matter.
For those who forget, Israel is an occupying country in its own right. It has denied the Palestinian people their legitimate right to an independent state since 1948. Russia’s annexation of Crimea might skew Israel’s view of the difference between right and wrong.