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Seeking Military Aid, Ukrainians Nervously Eye Prospect of Netanyahu’s Return to Power in Israel

avatar by Ben Cohen

Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a 2020 visit to Moscow as Israeli prime minister. Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

The prospect of a right-wing government in Israel headed by Benjamin Netanyahu has been greeted cautiously in Ukraine, whose democratic government has frequently appealed to Israeli leaders to supply weaponry to combat the ongoing Russian invasion.

With exit polls indicating that Netanyahu and his allies had crossed the 60-seat parliamentary threshold to form a government, many Ukrainians wondered aloud what impact such an outcome would have on Israeli policy. Netanyahu is widely perceived in Ukraine as a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin; coverage of Monday’s election in the Ukrainian media highlighted Netanyahu’s campaign posters from Israel’s 2019 election, which showed him shaking hands with a smiling Putin. One potential scenario would see Israel’s stance towards Ukraine align with that of right-wing nationalist governments in Europe, for example in Hungary and Italy, which are more sympathetic to Moscow.

“I hope that the Israeli government will start supplying weapons to Ukraine. We need to work with the Israeli government, to convince it,” Oleksandr Merezhko — head of the Ukrainian parliament’s foreign affairs committee — told local media on Monday. “There are many friends of Ukraine in Israel, and we need to mobilize their support in order to convince the government.”

At the end of October, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed frustration with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, insisting that Russia’s use of Iranian-manufactured drones against Ukrainian population centers was reason enough for Israel to supply his country with arms. Israel has so far limited its intervention in Ukraine to an extensive humanitarian relief operation and some intelligence sharing, but fear of the Russian military presence in next door Syria has put a brake on further action on the part of Jerusalem.

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However, at least one Ukrainian analyst urged the Kyiv government to work with the Israelis under the radar, arguing that Israel is reticent to engage in any operation with strong public visibility and that Netanyahu may be more flexible than is understood.

“Netanyahu has a long history of relations with Putin and his entourage. But he is a pragmatic politician who has changed his views and positions quite often,” Illya Kusa — a Middle East expert at the Ukrainian Future Institute told local outlet LIGA.

“It is not a fact that he will be friends with Putin against all odds. It may be the other way around,” Kusa emphasized.

Yigal Levin — a former IDF officer and Israeli military analyst — told the Ukrainian-language service of the BBC that Netanyahu’s course of action was unclear, but pointed to the fact that a key Netanyahu ally, former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, had recently visited Ukraine, where he denounced Russia’s “unprovoked war” and declared that “we should be on the side of Ukraine.”

“It is possible that Netanyahu is hinting with this visit of an ally that support for Ukraine will be possible,” Levin argued.

The same article quoted BBC Ukrainian analyst Ksenia Svetlova dismissing the prospect that Netanyahu would agree to supply Ukraine with military aid.

“If Benjamin Netanyahu, who exhibited his photos with Putin during the election campaign, returns to power, then in this case it is completely out of the question,” she said.

Ihor Semivolos — director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies in Kyiv — expressed broad agreement with Svetlova.

“There is only one way for Ukraine to influence Israeli society – to turn the Ukrainian issue into a political one inside Israel, so that Israeli politicians can get votes and seats in the Knesset from it,” he said. “Then the politics of Israel will change.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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