Foreign Ministry said worried by worsening Russian tone over Israel actions in Syria

Unnamed official says Jerusalem concerned Moscow may promote formal resolution at UN Security Council; report comes days after Israel said to authorize anti-drone tech to Kyiv

People inspect damage in the aftermath of an alleged Israeli air strike that hit the medieval Citadel of Damascus on February 19, 2023 (Louai Beshara/AFP)
People inspect damage in the aftermath of an alleged Israeli air strike that hit the medieval Citadel of Damascus on February 19, 2023 (Louai Beshara/AFP)

At Russia’s request, the UN Security Council discussed strikes in Syria attributed to Israel, a sign of a hardening in rhetoric from Moscow toward Jerusalem, Channel 13 news reported Friday.

The Security Council discussion came after a report Israel has authorized the sale of defensive military equipment to Kyiv for the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s representative reportedly told the Council that “the violent attacks by Israel affect the entire region and must stop. Israel’s unilateral actions affect the entire region. The Security Council should work to convey a clear message to Israel on the issue.”

According to Channel 13, the change of tone from Russia was noted in a diplomatic cable sent to the Foreign Ministry.

An Israeli official told the outlet that Jerusalem had not anticipated that Russia would call for a discussion on the matter, and there were concerns Moscow could try to promote a resolution against Israel at the Security Council.

“This is a measured worsening of Russia’s tone towards Israel. We are following the progress of Russian steps closely,” the unnamed official said.

This undated photograph released by the Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine. (Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, File)

Russia is set to hold the presidency of the UN Security Council in April as part of the planned rotation of the seat.

While Israel and Russia have long coordinated their activities in Syrian airspace in order to avoid any clashes, ties have been strained since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Though Israel’s military does not comment on specific strikes in Syria, it has acknowledged conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country over the last decade.

The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror organization. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

The apparent shift in tone from Russia came as Jerusalem reportedly approved export licenses for two Israeli companies to sell electronic warfare systems with a range of some 40 kilometers (25 miles) that could be used to defend against drone attacks.

According to the Walla news site, which cited three Israeli and Ukrainian officials, the export licenses were approved by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in mid-February. Cohen then informed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of the decision during his visit in Kyiv.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (left) meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Russia has sent thousands of Iranian-made suicide drones to attack targets across Ukraine, particularly power stations and other crucial infrastructure.

Israel has until now resisted providing weapons to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

One major reason for Israel’s hesitance appears to be its strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, where Russian forces largely control the airspace.

Israeli officials told Walla that the approval of the export licenses was not a shift in policy because the systems are defensive in nature and do not use any live fire that can kill Russian soldiers.

However, one senior Israeli official told Walla that one of the reasons Israel approved the licenses was to possibly see how the defense systems perform against Iranian drones.

At the beginning of February, Russia warned Israel against supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Firefighters work after a drone hit on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna)

The US has also been pushing Israel to increase its support, apparently including supplying weapons to Kyiv, according to reports. Western countries have poured weapons into the Ukrainian military as it holds up the Russian advance.

Israel’s refusal to send weapons has contributed to the perception that the Jewish state has attempted to stake out a neutral position on the war.

As the war progresses, Israel has increasingly insisted that it is in fact on Ukraine’s side, providing over $22.5 million in humanitarian aid and setting up a field hospital to treat wounded Ukrainians in the early days of the war. Last month, it voted alongside 140 other countries for a UN General Assembly resolution drafted by Kyiv calling for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

In the first months of the war, Israel sought to use its unique position enabled by its close working ties with both Russia and Ukraine to serve as a mediator between the parties. Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow and held a series of calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelensky over a span of several weeks.

However, the effort failed to bear fruit and Bennett shelved the initiative altogether as his own political position at home worsened. Netanyahu pledged before entering office to review Israel’s position and also speculated that he too could be called on to mediate between the sides.

Most Popular
read more: