The balancing act that Israel has been engaged in since the start of the war in Ukraine is beginning to lean seriously on the Ukrainian side. But at what cost ? On April 20, Benny Gantz announced on Twitter that he had “approved the purchase of protective equipment for helmets and vests, which will be transferred to the Ukrainian rescue forces and civilian organizations”. The Israeli Minister of Defence, who says he informed his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiï Reznikov the same day, included this step in the framework of the “Israel’s humanitarian efforts”recalling “the creation of a field hospital, the absorption of immigrants and refugees, food supply and humanitarian and medical aid”.
This contribution to the Ukrainian military effort marks a change in doctrine on the part of the Jewish state. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Israel refused to accede to the requests for materials formulated by kyiv, and supported by Washington, its historical ally. This ambiguous neutrality aims in particular to manage its strategic relationship with Moscow, an essential partner for its anti-Iranian military operations in Syria. A point of balance difficult to find for the Hebrew state, which does not have less than nearly 15% of Russian speakers among its population but whose public opinion leans more on the side of Ukraine.
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On the Russian side, Benny Gantz’s announcement did not go unnoticed. “We are checking this information carefully and will respond accordingly if confirmed”, warned Thursday, April 21 the ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov on Russian television. The relationship between Israel and Russia is not its first skirmish since the beginning of the war. The Israeli vote, on April 7, in favor of the expulsion of Russia from the Council of human rights of the United Nations, had pointed Moscow, where the ministry of foreign affairs had denounced ” a poorly camouflaged attempt to take advantage of the situation in Ukraine to divert the attention of the international community from one of the oldest unsettled conflicts, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.
The risk of alienating Russia
Two days earlier, Yaïr Lapid had already joined the chorus of international condemnations, accusing Russia of “war crimes”.“A large and powerful country invaded a smaller neighbor without any justification. Once again the ground is soaked in the blood of innocent civilians,” said the head of Israeli diplomacy, almost making people forget Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to Moscow a month earlier – the first Western leader to meet Vladimir Putin since the February 24 invasion – and his offer of mediation, which went unheeded. after.
By aligning itself in this way with the Western powers, Israel takes the risk of alienating Russia, which exercises a strong influence in the region. Master of Syrian airspace, Moscow lets the Israeli army bomb pro-Iran groups in Syria, but may very well go back on this tacit agreement. Has Moscow, moreover, issued a warning in this direction in recent days? According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretza senior Russian commander in Syria announced after the April 14 Israeli strikes that an Israeli missile had been intercepted by a Russian-made Syrian anti-aircraft missile.
→ EXPLANATION. War in Ukraine: Who are Russia’s supporters?
The calculation of the Jewish state promises to be all the more risky as Russia reduces the number of its men in Syria, including Wagner’s mercenaries, to redeploy them in Ukraine, leaving more room for Iranian militias or allies of the Iran, Israel’s sworn enemy.