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European diplomat criticizes Israeli balancing act on Ukraine invasion

Israel envoy to US insists Jewish state ‘undeniably’ backs Kyiv, while preserving interests in Syria, after EU official says Israel should take unequivocal stance on side of West

Demonstrators carry placards and flags during a protest  against the Russian invasion to the Ukraine, outside the city hall in Jerusalem, on February 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Demonstrators carry placards and flags during a protest against the Russian invasion to the Ukraine, outside the city hall in Jerusalem, on February 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A European diplomat sounded an exasperated note over Israel’s cautious policy toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Tuesday, as Israel’s ambassador to the US insisted that Jerusalem “undeniably supports Ukraine.”

“Israel can’t decide not to be on the side of the European countries and the United States,” said the EU diplomat, who spoke over the phone with The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier Tuesday that Israel was seeking to “help quietly” while maintaining its own strategic interests, referencing the need to maintain working relations with Russia, which controls the airspace over Syria where Israel operates to target Iranian proxies.

While Israel has expressed its support for the Ukrainian people and has sent a shipment of 100 tons of humanitarian aid, Bennett has avoided calling out Putin by name, refused a Ukrainian request for military equipment and his Foreign Minister Yair Lapid avoided condemning Russia by name for the bombing of the Babyn Yar memorial complex in Kyiv, site of the massacre of tens of thousands of Jews by Nazis during World War II.

Israel also refused a US request to co-sponsor a Security Council resolution last week condemning Russia, though Lapid announced that it would back a General Assembly resolution to the same effect later this week.

The European diplomat, who spoke to The Times of Israel on the eve of a visit by German Chancellor Olaf Sholz, said that European countries “are aware of Israel’s security interests.”

Members of the European Parliament applaud Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who appears on a screen as he speaks in a video conference during a special plenary session of the European Parliament focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on March 01, 2022. (JOHN THYS / AFP)

But the official argued that Israel is putting too much weight on maintaining good ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“How is Israel ready to trust a president that is violating all his relations with all the world, that this outweighs anything else for Israel?” the diplomat said.

Pushing back on the notion that Israel was refusing to take sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Mike Herzog said Israel would co-sponsor the General Assembly resolution against Russia, in addition to voting in favor.

“Israel believes in upholding the international order and undeniably supports Ukraine, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity,” Herzog tweeted Tuesday.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog. (Courtesy)

“While our moral position is clear, we are striving to pursue it in a way that will maintain our freedom of operations against Iran in the region, which is in everybody’s interest,” he said, offering more detail than that typically divulged publicly by Israeli officials regarding Jerusalem’s interests in Syria.

Herzog reiterated Israel’s offer to help mediate between Russia and Ukraine, a proposal encouraged by Kyiv — but one that Moscow has yet to publicly embrace.

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