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April 8, 2022 9:32 am

Note to the Media: Israel Is Not a Russian ‘Ally’ in the War Against Ukraine

avatar by Akiva Van Koningsveld


A soldier takes a photograph of his comrade as he poses beside a destroyed Russian tank and armored vehicles, amid Russia’s invasion on Ukraine in Bucha, in Kyiv region, Ukraine. April 2, 2022. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Even as Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid this week charged Russian forces with war crimes following the apparent massacre in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, media outlets continue to manipulate their audiences into thinking that the Jewish state has turned a blind eye to Moscow’s reported atrocities.

For instance, during the BBC’s April 6 evening news broadcast, Clive Myrie, reporting from Kyiv, depicted Israel as a Russian “ally” in the war against Ukraine, akin to India.

Meanwhile, a United Press International (UPI) column published earlier that day claimed that Jerusalem maintains an “unholy alliance” with Moscow. The UK’s Daily Express voiced a similar sentiment: the newspaper falsely grouped Israel with “Putin’s allies” who have “not criticize[d] the Kremlin’s actions.”

Since the war in Ukraine broke out six weeks ago, a sample of 18 US news organizations produced a total of 534 articles analyzing Israel’s stance on the conflict. Less than one in four (127) explained why Jerusalem has taken what Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described as a “measured and responsible” approach to the crisis.

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As such, journalists at major outlets have failed to provide news consumers with vital context about Israel’s policies toward Russia, which have been in large part driven by geopolitical realities in the Middle East.

In this case, Russia is the leading international player in Syria, where Israeli forces must maintain freedom of action to thwart Iranian terrorism that threatens the stability of the entire region.

Despite this, on April 3, Israel’s top diplomat took to Twitter, writing that it is “impossible to remain indifferent in the face of the horrific images from the city of Bucha near Kyiv, from after the Russian army left.” Lapid added: “Intentionally harming a civilian population is a war crime and I strongly condemn it.”

Contrary to the narrative promoted by the BBC and other publications, Israeli officials have on multiple occasions voiced support for Ukraine. Hours before Russia’s full-scale military campaign began on February 24, the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a communiqué that backed the “territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine.” The missive said that Israel “hopes for a diplomatic solution which will lead to calm, and is willing to help if asked.”

Jerusalem later stressed the need for an “immediate ceasefire in Ukraine,” emphasizing that the Jewish state “identif[ies] with the citizens that are under considerable danger and stress in Kyiv, Kharkiv, in the south and in other locations.” Furthermore, Lapid has consequently called the attack on Ukraine a “serious violation of the international order,” supported Kyiv at the United Nations, and shipped humanitarian aid to Ukrainians.

In response to Lapid’s statements, Israeli Ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Ben Zvi, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on February 25. In a subsequent announcement, Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, “expressed hope” that Israel would show understanding for the military assault on Ukraine. For his part, Russian Ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, cautioned the Jewish state to “continue [taking] a wise diplomatic approach” and not join “a new kind of sport” of bashing Russia.

The diplomatic dressing-down demonstrated the costs associated with Israeli moves against Russia, which, as Middle East expert Jonathan Schanzer noted, “cannot be overstated.”

For the last decade, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been forced to carry out airstrikes on Iranian military assets in Syria, in what has become known as the “war between wars” with the Islamic Republic. By sending Shiite fighters, advanced weapon systems, and other military hardware to areas close to Israel’s border, Tehran is attempting to create a new front with the Jewish state, similar to what it did by backing Gaza Strip-based terror groups and the Hezbollah terror organization in Lebanon.

At the same time, since 2015 Russia has supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the armed forces of the Russian Federation have become the primary actor in the country, necessitating Israeli military cooperation with the Kremlin. To prevent Israel and Russia from clashing inside Syrian territory, Jerusalem and Moscow have in recent years maintained a so-called deconfliction mechanism.

In the words of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the “cooperation mechanism with [Russia] assists in our determined battle against Iranian entrenchment on our northern border.”

This week, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Israel’s exiting air force chief, revealed that the IAF has already lost unrestricted aerial superiority in neighboring Lebanon, where Iran’s proxy Hezbollah is believed to have amassed over 150,000 missiles that can be used in an all-out assault against Israel.

Two other recent incidents further illustrate the fragility of Israel’s understandings with Russia, which underpin Jerusalem’s “delicate balancing act” towards the country.

As Russian troops readied to attack Ukraine, the UN Security Council in New York on February 23 gathered to discuss, among other issues, “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.” During the meeting, Russian representative Dmitry Polyanskiy slammed “Tel Aviv’s [sic] announced plans to expand settlement activity in the occupied Golan Heights,” stressing that Moscow does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the area he described as “an integral part of Syria.”

Analysts noted (see, for example, here and here) that Russia’s rebuke of Israel’s control of parts of the Golan came barely two hours after Jerusalem initially weighed in on the looming Russian invasion of Ukraine. Then, on March 11, Russia Today’s Arabic-language website published footage that reportedly showed Russian military police patrolling the Syrian part of the Golan Heights. In the six-minute video, soldiers near Israel’s border can be seen marking armored vehicles with the letter ‘Z’ — understood to be a symbol of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — in what some saw as an ominous message to the Israeli government.

Strikingly, implicit threats by Moscow to close Syria’s skies to Israeli fighter jets, which would make the Jewish state and the whole Middle East less secure, did not make it into most news reports about Israel’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Israel’s ever-precarious position in the region, perpetuated by Iran’s terrorism and expansionism, is seemingly lost on some 75 percent of the journalists reporting on Jerusalem’s diplomatic approach to Russia.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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