Israel said preparing for potential need to evacuate Ukrainian Jews in case of war

Representatives of various government offices reported to meet to discuss possibility that thousands will seek to immigrate to Israel if Russia invades

Immigrants from Ukraine arriving in Israel on February 25, 2019. (Noam Moshkowitz/Inernational Fellowship of Christians and Jews)
Illustrative: Immigrants from Ukraine arriving in Israel on February 25, 2019. (Noam Moshkowitz/Inernational Fellowship of Christians and Jews)

The Israeli government is preparing for the possibility that thousands of Ukrainian Jews will want to immigrate to Israel in the event of a Russian invasion of the country, according to a report Sunday night.

According to Haaretz, representatives of various government offices and groups met on Sunday to discuss such an eventuality, among them the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Minister, Defense Ministry, Diaspora Affairs Ministry and the Jewish Agency.

The report said some 75,000 people living in eastern Ukraine are believed eligible for Israeli citizenship.

It noted that Israel has long had plans for the mass evacuation of Jews from various countries should the need arise, and has updated those plans for Ukraine due to the rising tensions.

A Foreign Ministry official on Monday said Israel is not currently expecting a surge in immigration from Ukraine and also noted that the Jewish Agency handles such immigration issues. However, the official said the ministry was looking into issues relating to the estimated 10,000 Israeli nationals in Ukraine.

On Sunday the US State Department said Washington had ordered the families of its diplomats in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to leave the country “due to the continued threat of Russian military action.”

Washington has also authorized the “voluntary” departure of its embassy employees and urged US citizens in the Eastern European country to “consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options.”

The State Department announcement came amid tensions between Russia and the West over European security and concerns over a possible invasion by Moscow of Ukraine.

A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman, looks on in a dugout on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Gorlivka, Donetsk region on January 23, 2022. (Anatolii STEPANOV / AFP)

Russia has been massing tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

The movements have ignited stern warnings from Washington and Europe — but so far intense diplomacy has yielded little results.

Earlier Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed the idea of slapping punitive sanctions on Moscow before any potential invasion, saying they should be used as a means of “dissuading” an attack.

“Once sanctions are triggered, you lose the deterrent effect,” Blinken told CBS. “So what we’re doing is putting together a whole series of actions that would figure into President [Vladimir] Putin’s calculus.”

That includes beefing up defenses in Ukraine with more military assistance, Blinken said.

Also Sunday Russia’s Foreign Ministry rejected a British claim that the Kremlin was seeking to replace Ukraine’s government with a pro-Moscow administration, and that former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniy Murayev was a potential candidate.

Britain’s Foreign Office on Saturday also named several other Ukrainian politicians it said had links with Russian intelligence services, along with Murayev, who is the leader of a small party that has no seats in parliament.

Those politicians include Mykola Azarov, a former prime minister under Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president ousted in a 2014 uprising, and Yanukovych’s former chief of staff, Andriy Kluyev.

A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman checks his weapon as he stands in a trench on the frontline with the Russia-backed separatists near Zolote village, in the eastern Lugansk region, on January 21, 2022 (Anatolii STEPANOV / AFP)

Murayev told The Associated Press via Skype that the British claim “looks ridiculous and funny” and that he has been denied entry to Russia since 2018 on the grounds of being a threat to Russian security.

The UK government made the claim based on an intelligence assessment, without providing evidence to back it up. It comes amid high tensions between Moscow and the West over Russia’s designs on Ukraine and each side’s increasing accusations that the other is planning provocations.

“The disinformation spread by the British Foreign Office is more evidence that it is the NATO countries, led by the Anglo-Saxons, who are escalating tensions around Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on the Telegram messaging app Sunday. “We call on the British Foreign Office to stop provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the information “shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking.”

Truss urged Russia to “deescalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy,” and reiterated Britain’s view that “any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs.”

The US has mounted an aggressive campaign in recent months to unify its European allies against a new Russian invasion of Ukraine. The White House called the UK government assessment “deeply concerning” and said it stands with the duly elected Ukrainian government.

“The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically elected partners in Ukraine,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said.

The assessment came as US President Joe Biden spent Saturday at the presidential retreat Camp David outside of Washington huddling with his senior national security team about the Ukraine situation. A White House official said the discussions included efforts to de-escalate the situation with diplomacy and deterrence measures being coordinated closely with allies and partners, including security assistance to Ukraine.

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