US-sanctioned Russian oligarchs reportedly barred from hiding private jets in Israel

Gov’t yet to decide whether to join sanctions on ultra-wealthy businessmen tied to Kremlin; official: ‘We mustn’t be seen as a country through which sanctions can be circumvented’

Illustrative: A private jet lands at Biggin Hill Airport, London. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Illustrative: A private jet lands at Biggin Hill Airport, London. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Israel has yet to reach a decision on whether to join the US and numerous other nations in sanctioning Russian oligarchs after the invasion of Ukraine, but reportedly moved Saturday to bar them from landing their planes in the country.

According to Hebrew media reports, the Israel Airports Authority instructed staff at Ben Gurion Airport not to approve long-term parking of private jets belonging to US-sanctioned Russians, to prevent them from being stashed in Israel in an attempt to bypass sanctions.

The Ynet news site said a similar order was given to bar them from mooring their yachts at Israeli ports.

“We must not be seen as a country through which sanctions can be circumvented,” an unnamed Israeli official told the news site.

The US imposed sanctions on the ultra-wealthy Russian oligarchs at the heart of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime on Thursday in the latest ratcheting up of pressure on the Kremlin to halt its invasion of Ukraine.

The oligarchs — government officials and business owners who have amassed vast wealth in an economy where only Putin loyalists can get ahead — are seen as vulnerable because much of their wealth is tied to Western interests.

They and their family members “will be cut off from the US financial system, their assets in the United States will be frozen and their property will be blocked from use,” the White House said in a statement.

“The United States and governments all over the world will work to identify and freeze the assets Russian elites and their family members hold in our respective jurisdictions — their yachts, luxury apartments, money, and other ill-gotten gains.”

The sanctions matched earlier EU measures against Russia’s wealthiest figures, but also include a ban on travel to the US and preventing these targeted people from hiding their assets through transfer to family members.

A picture taken on March 3, 2022, in a shipyard of La Ciotat, near Marseille, southern France, shows a yacht, Amore Vero, owned by a company linked to Igor Sechin, chief executive of Russian energy giant Rosneft. (Nicolas Tucat/AFP)

On Friday, Channel 12 news reported that an inter-ministerial committee is set to give recommendations to the government on Sunday regarding sanctions that Israel could employ against Russia.

One scenario that might potentially need to be addressed is how to prevent sanctioned Russian oligarchs from using Israel as a financial safe haven for their assets. As things stand, the network said, there is no legislation that would prevent oligarchs with Israeli citizenship from putting their money into bank accounts here.

The report also said policymakers in Israel recognize they won’t be able to maintain their relatively ambiguous policy regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for much longer, as the crisis there further escalates.

While Jerusalem expressed its concern regarding the Russian military operation early on, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has avoided criticizing Moscow or Putin, as he seeks to maintain the green-light the Kremlin has long given Israel, allowing the IDF to operate in Russia-controlled skies over Syria against Iranian proxies below.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on February 27, 2022. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Pool)

Israel co-sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia on Wednesday, but only after it refused to do so when the same measure came before the Security Council last week — a decision that drew the ire of the Biden administration.

Jerusalem has sent a 100-ton shipment of humanitarian aid to Ukrainians, but turned down Kyiv’s request for military equipment. Israel has welcomed Jewish Ukrainians who have fled the country, but has refused to do the same for non-Jewish refugees and those who have arrived at Ben Gurion have been forced to pay a NIS 10,000 ($3,050) fee in order to remain temporarily in the country.

Bennett has heeded calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow, and has held a pair of phone conversations with both the Ukrainian leader and Putin since the start of the invasion last Thursday. But Russia has yet to express interest in Israel playing the role of mediator and analysts are skeptical Jerusalem has enough leverage over Putin to keep him at the table.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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