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February 23, 2022 3:40 pm

Israel Backs Ukraine’s ‘Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty,’ Avoids Stance on Russia

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

People cross the contact line between pro-Moscow rebels and Ukrainian troops in the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska, Ukraine on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

In its first comment on the crisis in Ukraine, Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday conveyed “concern” about the “serious” escalation and voiced support for the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

“Israel shares the concern of the international community regarding the steps taken in eastern Ukraine and the serious escalation in the situation,” the ministry said in a statement. “Israel hopes for a diplomatic solution which will lead to calm, and is willing to help if asked.”

It additionally expressed willingness to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the country, as well as its concern “about the welfare of thousands of Israeli citizens living in Ukraine and the welfare of the large Jewish community” there.

While Western leaders have criticized Russia and condemned President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send forces into separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, Israel — which has ties and vested interests in both countries, and engages in military coordination with Russia in Syria — has maintained a more neutral position, according to Eldad Shavit, senior analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

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“I expected Israel to mention Russia in its statement,” Shavit told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “Israel cannot continue to sit on the fence as the crisis between Ukraine and Russia escalates and the threat of more severe sanctions may loom.”

Shavit argued that sooner than later, Israel will need to take a more decisive stance — especially if the US, its most important security partner, demands it sides with Western countries as they increase pressure on Russia and urge compliance with potential sanctions.

“Israel will have no choice if it wants to be part of the democratic countries of the world and count on the US commitment to its security, even at the price of its relations with Moscow,” Shavit argued.

Western countries levied new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, with the US announcing measures to target Russian banks and sovereign debt and Germany halting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

In a scenario where gas supply from Russia to Europe is blocked through the Nord Stream pipelines, Jerusalem will be unable to refuse a demand from Washington to help develop an alternative for providing gas to Europe from fields in the Eastern Mediterranean shared by Egypt, Cyprus, and Israel, the INSS analyst said.

Shavit noted that Russia has recently been making it more difficult for Israel to wage its airstrike campaign against Iranian entrenchment and weapons transfers in Syria. He cited a joint patrol conducted by Russian and Syrian aircraft over the Golan Heights in January, and the intention of both countries to hold additional exercises.

“This was a clear message to Israel that Russia has the ability, if it chooses, to impede Israel’s struggle against the Iranian axis as it presents in Syrian territory,” Shavit said.

Russia, which has backed the government of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian conflict, has for the most part tolerated Israeli strikes in the war-torn country.

“As part of the Russian response against the United States’ allies, it is possible that Moscow would cut off the Russian-Israeli operational coordination and try to thwart Israeli strikes in Syria using Russian air defense systems and interception aircraft,” the INSS wrote in a report. “Simultaneously, it is possible that Russia would refrain from restraining Iran and even encourage it to use its proxies, not only against the American forces in Syria, but also against Israel.”

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