Like Ukraine, Israel Must Confront Putin and His Evil Intentions
In his famous 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill said, “From what I have seen of our Russian friends … I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than weakness.”
For Israel and Ukraine, countries both dealing with Russian-supported proxy wars in their backyards, Churchill’s maxim has never been more relevant or insightful. Russia can be negotiated with only from a position of strength. All other negotiations are destined to fail — often with loss of human life.
Russia recently closed naval traffic through the Kerch Straits; it also wounded six Ukrainian sailors and captured a Ukrainian navy vessel. The next day, Ukraine’s parliament approved a declaration of martial law in regions bordering Russia, the Black Sea, and the Russian proxy state of Transnistria. The willingness of the Ukrainians to show resolve in defense of their country was a historic moment. In contrast, when Russia annexed Crimea and took control of half of the eastern Donbas region in the spring of 2014, Ukraine could not declare martial law, and its armies were in no shape to defend their territory.
Ukraine has learned what Israel has long known: weakness invites war.
Russia’s aggression against its neighbors in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses has left a string of proxy states and frozen conflicts including Crimea, the Donbas, Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Russia’s nefarious policy is no longer limited in geography to the borders of Russia — as Israel has seen with Russia’s propping up of the Assad regime in Syria.
Israel has long warned that it won’t allow an Iranian and Hezbollah entrenchment in Syria that could target Israel — a development that would constitute an existential threat to the Jewish state. The establishment of a permanent Iranian base in Syria would place Israel at risk of a simultaneous confrontation with Tehran’s proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria.
On a diplomatic level, Russia makes promises about restraining Iran, but the reality is that Putin’s Russia is far more supportive of the mullahs in Tehran than Jerusalem. Under Putin, Russia’s interests in the region are clearly co-joined with those of Iran and the Assad regime. Putin’s promises to reign in Hezbollah and the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps are strictly transactional exercises that are designed to delay, obfuscate, and keep the conflict boiling.
Putin’s promises to restrain the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics within Ukraine are equally empty. The simple fact is that Putin sees these promises as nothing more than revocable tools to weaken the resolve of the West by positioning Russia as a peacemaker in conflicts that are largely instigated or exacerbated by Russia itself. It’s a clever trick that muddies the waters and creates uncertainty in the West as to Russia’s true intentions.
On a military level, Russia deployed S-300 surface to air missiles (SAMs) in Syria two months ago following the downing of a Russian spy plane. But not content to menace Israel alone, Russia announced after it closed the Kerch Straits that it would deploy the S-300 SAMs in occupied Crimea as well. Thus, despite Putin’s promises of deescalation, Russia’s actions suggest he is fortifying his positions for the long term.
Kyiv-born Israeli prime minister Golda Meir once said, “We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle with the Arabs — we have no place to go.” Meir’s remark also rings true for her native Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression. Quite simply, Ukraine also has no place to go.
As every Israeli knows, sovereignty and the right to exist are not rights that are won and then enshrined forever; they must be continually safeguarded and sometimes defended. Ukraine today, unlike Ukraine some years ago, is now willing to pay that price to safeguard its sovereignty and right to exist.
Russia’s foreign adventurism provides a unique opportunity for Ukraine and Israel to celebrate not only historical, cultural, and economic ties, but also to expand military ones. The provision of advanced Israeli weapons to Ukraine would help to ensure its sovereignty by creating a significant deterrent to continued Russian aggression. Ukraine could also benefit from Israel’s experience in fighting terrorism. Both countries would benefit from greater intelligence sharing. Meanwhile, a pending free trade agreement will only strengthen the relationship between the two countries further.
Some will argue that such military ties will anger Russia. However, Israel and Ukraine are both victims of Russian aggression, and playing the victim is a loser’s game of weakness. It’s time for a new paradigm in Israel — Ukraine and Israel bolstering relations, and partnering to confront a common foe.
Brian Mefford is the Director of Wooden Horse Strategies, an American governmental affairs and strategic communications firm based in Kyiv, Ukraine. He is also a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council, and has lived and worked in Ukraine since 1999. Kenneth Bricker is a senior adviser at The Israel Project and a communications consultant previously based in Kyiv, Ukraine.