As Britain’s key allies expel Russian diplomats, Israel opts not to

Russian official says Israel joins China, Brazil and India in trying to avoid controversy over nerve gas attack; Foreign Ministry mum

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Protesters hold signs during a demonstration calling to end the war in Syria near the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv on December 18, 2016.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Illustrative: Protesters hold signs during a demonstration calling to end the war in Syria near the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv on December 18, 2016.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

As opposed to the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany, France and other Western countries, Israel did not expel any Russian diplomats this week, The Times of Israel has learned.

On Monday, several countries announced that a total of about 100 Russian diplomats thought to be spies were being expelled in response to Moscow’s alleged involvement in a nerve gas attack in the UK.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Monday refused to comment on whether it has expelled or planned to expel Russian diplomats. But the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv told The Times of Israel that Israel has not expelled any Russian diplomats.

By not joining the countries who seek to punish Russia over its alleged involvement in the Salisbury poison attack, Israel is in the company of countries such as China, Brazil and India, who have similarly tried to keep away from this controversy, a Russian official told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sergei Skripal speaks to his lawyer from behind bars in Moscow, August 9, 2006 (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

The British Embassy in Israel said Tuesday that it had no further comment beyond what it said last week, after Israel issued only a lukewarm condemnation of the nerve gas attack, which targeted ex-Russian double spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

“We expect strong statement of support from all our close partners, Israel included,” the embassy in Ramat Gan stated on March 20, after it emerged that UK officials had complained to their Israeli interlocutors about the fact that Jerusalem’s response to the attack failed to mention Russia’s ostensible involvement in the poisoning.

On March 15, the Foreign Ministry’s statement said only that, “Israel views the event that took place in Great Britain with gravity and strongly condemns it. We hope that the international community will be able to join forces to prevent the recurrence of such events in the future.”

While London took issue with the omission of Russia — which the UK and many of its allies said is the main suspect in the case — the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv on March 16 issued its own statement, expressing concern about “attempts undertaken by the government of the United Kingdom and supported by some other foreign nations and a number of media outlets, to draw Israel into political and propagandistic campaign.”

The United States and more than a dozen European nations expelled Russian diplomats on Monday and the Trump administration ordered Russia’s consulate in Seattle to close.

Warning of an “unacceptably high” number of Russian spies in the US, the Trump administration said 60 diplomats would be expelled — all Russian intelligence agents working under diplomatic cover, the US said. The group included a dozen posted to Russia’s mission to the United Nations, who, the officials said, were engaged in “aggressive collection” of intelligence on American soil.

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