Netanyahu tells government to be quiet on Russia and focus on Iran

In his first statement on the conflict, former prime minister warns against taking positions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying the ‘existential threat’ is Iran

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at his party's faction meeting in the Knesset, February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at his party's faction meeting in the Knesset, February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the government to take a more guarded approach to the ongoing war in Ukraine and instead focus its attention on the Iran nuclear deal, in his first public statement on the European conflict since Russia invaded its neighbor on Thursday.

“In days like these, it’s advisable to take positions with the utmost caution,” Netanyahu said at the opening of Monday’s Likud faction meeting. “Unfortunately, in the last few days we’ve heard too many unnecessary expressions and too many false predictions.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned the Russian invasion, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday acceded to a Friday request from the Ukrainian president to offer to mediate negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Netanyahu, who is responsible for Israel’s warming relations with Putin, mentioned neither Ukraine nor Russia by name as he referred to the events of the last few days.

Neither he nor his Likud party have made significant statements on the unfolding European war, and Likud MK Yariv Levin on Sunday refused a request from Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy to reestablish a committee on immigration and absorption in anticipation of a wave of new immigrants from Ukraine, citing the request as political.

“I call on the government to behave responsibly, to speak less about what they don’t need to talk about and to deal more with existential security threats,” said the former premier.

Netanyahu said the real security threat facing Israel is Iran, and that Bennett and Lapid have not given enough attention to the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna in the past days.

“The nuclear deal with Iran threatens our existence,” Netanyahu said. “And on this very issue Bennett and Lapid aren’t saying anything and aren’t doing anything.”

Netanyahu was expected to expand on these remarks during a no-confidence debate and vote later Monday in the Knesset plenum.

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