The previous government tried to walk a fine line between the warring sides, but as the time went by, the US pressurized it to abandon its neutrality and join the Western camp. In March, Tel Aviv voted affirmatively to the UN condemnation of the Russian campaign in Ukraine and a couple of months later, along with 93 others called for expulsion of Russia from the Human Rights Council.
Although the Israeli government has resisted the demands of some parties to send weapons to Kiev in the nine months that have passed since Ukraine war started, this practice may change when Netanyahu takes office. Netanyahu, who now sees himself as the prime minister, recently said in a speech that he will mull the possibility of sending weapons to Ukraine in the future cabinet.
There are many ifs and buts regarding Netanyahu’s ability to realize his Ukraine plans. In addition to home problems in the occupied territories, there are obstacles ahead of him sending arms to Ukraine that require him to make difficult decisions.
Repercussions of facing off Moscow
Although the differences among Tel Aviv leaders on Ukraine arms delivery are considerable, the action can damage the Israeli-Russian relations. Their relations are already strained due to the stances taken by Tel Aviv officials in support of Kiev and presence of Israelis fighting alongside the Ukrainian forces as mercenaries. In response, Moscow closed down in July the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency, a global agency arranging Jewish migration to the occupied Palestinian territories. Kremlin leaders more than one said that any Israeli aids delivery to Ukraine would marks end of the relationship with Tel Aviv and would have consequences. This threat made the Israeli decision makers give their approach a second thought.
The Israelis have a strong relationship with both sides. Around 15 percent of the Israeli population is the migrants or children of migrants from the former Soviet Union, mainly from Russia and Ukraine. In 1990, the year the Soviet Union collapsed, the Israeli regime established close economic and political relations with the new Russia and Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu engaged in friendly work ties with Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu’s 2019 election campaign even used posters showing off his meeting with the Russian leader.
Given this fact, Netanyahu knows that if he takes a step forward for Ukraine, he will infuriate Moscow and have to to take all considerations in this way. Most of the discussion in Israel about sending military aids to Ukraine focuses on what Russia will do in retaliation.
Netanyahu knows very well that first consequences of face-off with Moscow would show themselves on the Syrian fronts and the occupied territories’ borders. The very immediate consequence would be destabilization of the occupied Golan Heights, a Syrian territory Israel seized from the Arab country in 1967 war. The Russian envoy to the UN in a speech made in reaction to the Israeli Ukraine stand had said that Moscow does not recognize the Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.
On the other hand, Netanyahu, who is Iran's top enemy and had claimed many times that Tel Aviv will not allow Tehran to build military bases in Syria, needs the help of the Russians in this regard to deal with the alleged threats from Iran. Netanyahu traveled to Moscow and met with Putin several times in the past decade, trying to cut Iran's influence in Syria through Russia and gain Russian approval to carry out attacks against Damascus and its allies, though he always failed to do so and could not count on Moscow.
Over the past months, Neftali Bennett and then Yair Lapid threw their support behind Ukraine, but at the same time tried to steer clear of tensions with Moscow. In the early days of war, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the Israelis to equip Kiev with Iron Dome air defenses, but they refused to do so bringing some excuses. Then they agreed to sending air defenses and radar systems, but this did not happen either. Last month, Zelensky said that the Israelis had not given his country anything to help defend itself, suggesting that the Israeli leaders were not honest in rejecting Kiev's requests for missile interceptors, mainly to avoid tensions with Moscow.
Israeli security concerns
Haaretz newspaper recently reported that the Israeli regime is under American duress to provide military assistance to Ukraine. The Americans even asked Tel Aviv to provide to the Ukrainian military strategic weapons, added the newspaper citing informed sources. If this is true, Tel Aviv has certainly to supply advanced missiles and even Iron Dome batteries to Kiev.
By making such demands, the US tried to put part of Ukraine war costs on the Israeli shoulders for the Western countries to make some respite, but there are some problems with this plan. One of the problems is the battery shortage. The Israelis have no surplus batteries to provide Ukraine. The US, however, is an exception that was delivered two of the Iron Dome batteries, which Washington is unwilling to dispatch to Ukraine. Anyway, the Israeli regime needs the American permission before any delivery of Iron Dome batteries to a third country. No authorization for Ukraine has so far been issued.
The most important issue about not sending the Iron Dome systems to Ukraine is the secrecy of this defense system. Iron Dome is based on highly classified and advanced technology, and its protection is essential to ensure its continued ability to operate successfully. Transferring the system and its technology to a foreign country requires a risk that, in turn, puts the Israeli regime at stake. Iran, for example, managed to obtain the highly complicated drone technology when it seized state-of-the-art American drones in Iraq and also in its skies.
Later in October, Netanyahu told MSNBC news network that the Israeli weapons delivered to foreign countries in the past are “used against us” on the battlegrounds. He made this justification to Israeli resistance to the calls for Ukraine arms delivery.
Inability against Resistance camp
Thought some Israeli citizens urge the government to send weapons to Ukraine, the Israeli officials have a different view. Recently, Israeli officials said that if they send military aids to Ukraine, they would face difficulty dealing with threats posed by foreign sides. This Israeli stance is not irrelevant to the developments the West Bank has witnessed over the past few months. Tel Aviv leaders are extremely worried about the rise of Palestinian resistance groups in Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the West Bank, and they have used all power at their disposal to eliminate these groups and ensure the security of the occupied territories, but such measures proved unsuccessful in neutralizing the Palestinian struggle, and regular assaults on the Israelis are characteristic of these days of the occupied territories. Actually, the West Bank situation is in a boiling point and serious clashes are likely to break out any moment.
Alexy Naumov, a journalist at the newspaper Kommersant and an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, in a Telegram post describes this situation this way: “The return of Benjamin Netanyahu to the PM’s office in Israel is good news for Moscow, and the point here is absolutely not whether he is ‘Putin’s friend’ or not. He is a friend of the Russian vision of the world.”
Naumov explains that Russia prefers countries that mind their own business, not “the interests of mankind,” preferring “the Erdogans, Trumps and Netanyahus” of the world over the “difficult” Bidens and Johnsons. The Kremlin is pleased that Netanyahu will most likely “take care of Israel’s security interests” but be “absolutely numb to the ideology of the future of the human race.”
Therefore, while these days signals of Ukraine war end are flashing, Tel Aviv would seek to continue this current policy regarding Ukraine. Very likely, Netanyahu’s claims of help to Ukraine were for internal consumption and aimed at winning the favor of the far-right camp to reclaim the prime minister post.