Russia summons Israeli envoy for dressing down after Lapid’s ‘anti-Russian attack’

Some officials insist relations not deteriorating with Moscow, which last week condemned FM remarks after UN vote, but others worry about impact for Israeli action in Syria

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on April 14, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on April 14, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Russia on Sunday summoned Israel’s ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Ben Zvi, for a dressing down after last week it condemned Israel for supporting Moscow’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council over its invasion of Ukraine.

Israeli officials quoted by the Haaretz news site said that the reprimand, scheduled for Monday, was not a sign of relations between Moscow and Jerusalem deteriorating, but rather a “controlled confrontation.” An Israeli diplomatic source said that the “summoning of the ambassador is unsurprising. It’s one of the available modes of response in the diplomatic toolbox,” according to the report.

Other officials are concerned that ties are starting to fray, however, and worry about the implications for Israel’s ongoing efforts to thwart the activities of Iranian and pro-Iranian forces in Syria, Channel 13 reported. It said Israeli officials were surprised that Ben Zvi was summoned, having believed the UN Human Rights Council spat was over.

A Russian foreign ministry statement released last Friday accused Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of an “anti-Russian attack” with his comments after the General Assembly vote last week, which marked only the second time a country has been stripped of its membership rights on the council.

“There is an effort to take advantage of the situation around Ukraine to distract the international community from one of the longest unresolved conflicts — the Palestinian-Israeli,” the ministry said.

The statement went on to rail at Israel for “the illegal occupation and creeping annexation of Palestinian territories.” It also bashed the blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which Israel says is needed to prevent arms from reaching terror groups in the enclave.

“It is also noteworthy that… the longest occupation in the post-war world history is carried out with the tacit connivance of the leading Western countries and the actual support of the United States,” the statement charged.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint press conference with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) president following their talks in Moscow, on March 24, 2022. (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP)

It was not clear what specifically Lapid — who has accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine — said following the April 7 vote to draw Moscow’s ire.

A Foreign Ministry statement at the time denounced the “unjustified invasion” of Ukraine and accused Russian forces of “killing innocent civilians.” The statement also quoted Lapid as saying there was no change in Israel’s stance toward the Human Rights Council, which Jerusalem alleges has an anti-Israel bias, without referring to Russia or its invasion of Ukraine.

There was no response from Lapid or the Foreign Ministry to the Russian statement.

Israel has avoided aligning too closely with either side, since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24. It is one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, and Russia, which controls the airspace over Syria, in which Israel operates to target Iranian proxies.

However, after irking the Biden administration by declining to co-sponsor the first UN Security Council resolution against Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Israel has since joined the West in condemning Russia in several UN resolutions.

Jerusalem has also moved slowly toward the West’s position against Russia more broadly, though there has been a delegation of responsibility between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who until recently sought to mediate between the sides and has largely avoided criticizing Russia, and Lapid, who has been much more vocal in his criticism. Both men condemned the massacre that took place in Bucha, but only Lapid called out Russia as responsible.

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