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Tipsheet

Moscow to Israel: Don't You Dare Send Arms to Ukraine

Yonatan Sindel/Pool via AP

Israel has caved to Joe Biden, though it’s unsure whether the president of his staff pressured Jerusalem to change course on Ukraine. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has walked a fine line between the two camps, as both assist regarding the nation’s national security interests. The US provides, among other things, military aid as Israel’s most staunch ally, while Russia keeps Israel’s northern border with Syria in check. 

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The latter wouldn’t have been an issue if the Obama administration had maintained the decades-old policy of keeping Russia out of the Middle East. The Obama White House’s dithering and incompetence in Syria allowed the Assad regime to deploy chemical weapons to be used; no severe consequences followed. Netanyahu had been firm in not wanting to rock the boat between Jerusalem and Moscow, but now they’re considering sending arms to Ukraine, a move that Moscow has declared would be a “red line” in their relationship (via NBC News): 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long leaned into his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, leveraging it to act as an intermediary between the Kremlin and Washington and to help secure Israel’s northern border with Syria. 

What a difference 18 months makes. 

Netanyahu returned to power in late December amid expectations that he would pivot Israel in the direction of Russia. He has instead shored up his country’s backing of Kyiv under pressure from Israel’s most significant ally, the U.S. Now he has to weigh alienating Putin by providing defensive arms to Ukraine, a move he has yet to agree to and which Russia has already made it clear would be a red line. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy publicly asked Israel for its advanced David’s Sling system in his virtual address to the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 17, expressing confidence that Israel would eventually acquiesce. 

“We do not have yet the David’s Sling from Israel, but I believe it is just temporary,” Zelenskyy said. 

[…] 

Moscow has focused on Israel’s public actions rather than its covert ones. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned this month that Israel’s provision of defensive military equipment to Ukraine would lead to an “escalation of the crisis.” 

Countries “supplying weapons should understand that we will consider these weapons as legitimate targets,” she said, adding that the position “is well-known to all.” 

Netanyahu told NBC News in December that he wanted to avoid a Russian-Israeli war. The question of whether Netanyahu, who despite his hawkish reputation is historically loath to use the country’s full military might, should put Israel on a possible collision course with Russia has been a growing debate in Israel. 

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It’s jarring that another nuclear-armed power is hurled into the Ukrainian mix. While not an official nuclear club member, Israel possessing atomic weapons is the Middle East’s worst-kept secret. Now, they’re getting pinched to pick sides, making for an epic headache as infuriating either party here, Russia and the United States, could spell disaster for Israel’s national security interests.

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