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February 14, 2022 2:12 pm

Israel Urged Citizens to Leave Ukraine Based on US Intelligence, Report Says

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem February 13, 2022. Photo: Menahem Kahana

Israel urged its citizens to evacuate Ukraine in a drastic change of policy after receiving American intelligence that a Russian invasion would likely occur as early as Wednesday, Israeli news site Walla reported Monday.

According to unnamed top Israeli officials, Jerusalem anxiously followed developments in Ukraine over the past few weeks, but refrained from calling on its citizens in the embattled country to return home. Nor did it evacuate the families of diplomatic staff.

Israeli officials were reticent to make dramatic moves as they attempted to walk a tightrope in their relations with both Russia and Ukraine, not wanting to anger either side.

While Washington was giving increasingly urgent signals to its allies regarding the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, one of Walla’s sources said that Israel “did not want to automatically adhere to whatever the Americans did or said.”

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Early on Friday, however, the Israeli Foreign Ministry began to reassess the situation and consider other options, including advising citizens to immediately leave Ukraine. That afternoon, Israel’s ambassador to Kyiv, Michael Brodsky, determined that the situation was not yet urgent enough to justify such a move.

Several hours later, however, US officials conveyed an updated intelligence report to Israel and several other countries that stated that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was highly likely to occur in less than a week.

Israeli officials were uncertain as to how concrete the intelligence was, according to Walla, and believed the Biden administration’s approach to the Ukraine crisis was influenced by the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Yet the report appears to have convinced Ambassador Brodsky, who told Israeli officials that the time had come to call on citizens to evacuate.

At a situation assessment held on Saturday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett asked Foreign Ministry officials why such an evacuation order had not been given, and they replied that it was because of “our close relations with all sides,” which meant that “the entire world is watching what we do.” In particular, they said, relations with Russia were a major concern.

Bennett then made the decision to call on Israeli citizens to leave Ukraine, saying that all signs pointed to an imminent Russian invasion, and given the uncertainty of the situation, it was best to err on the side of caution. All Israelis should evacuate as quickly as possible, he said, before it was too late.

The prime minister did not make a public declaration, however, until after talks between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin took place on Saturday evening and the White House had been consulted.

After these talks, Israeli officials assessed that there would be no diplomatic breakthrough and it was time to publicly advise citizens to evacuate.

On Sunday, Bennett told Israelis in Ukraine not to “wait for a situation in which you will very much want to return but will be unable to do so. Be responsible for your lives and leave Ukraine as quickly as possible and come home.”

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