Despite Western pressures, Israel and Russia’s pragmatic good relations are intact

One of the reasons why Kiev will not receive Iron Dome batteries lies on the Levant.

Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts

Recently, influential US Senators Chris Van Hollen (Democrat) and Lindsey Graham (Republican) sent a letter to the US Senate Armed Services complaining about the fact that Israel is blocking the transfer of American US Iron Dome batteries to Ukraine. Meanwhile, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, published on June 28, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his explanation on why his country will not allow Kiev to have such missile defense batteries.

Iron Dome is a joint Israeli-American project and thus any deal with a third party regarding a sale or transfer must be approved by both countries. So far, the Jewish state has been vetoing the system’s transfer to Kiev. In the aforementioned interview, Netanyahu had this to say: “We are concerned with the possibility that systems we would give to Ukraine would fall into Iranian hands and could be reverse-engineered, and we would find ourselves facing Israeli systems used against Israel itself. And, by the way, that is not a theoretical threat because Western systems, anti-tank systems for example, did exactly that journey, and we now find them on our borders, with Hezbollah.”

Asked on what size the Jewish state stands on the current confrontation, he replied that “we’ve expressed our sympathy” (to Ukraine), but said that “there is a limit: limitations we have and concerns and interests that we have”, also adding that “our pilots are flying right next to Russian pilots over the skies of Syria in order to block the attempts of Iran to establish a second Hezbollah front in Syria.”

Despite all talk about it, one should keep in mind that the Iron Dome, for one thing, was not designed to intercept large, guided missiles – but Kiev insists the system could at least offer some protection against Grad and other smaller rockets, as well as Russian drones. The same way Western air defense systems cannot really protect Ukraine that much, Kiev’s wishful thinking aside, the truth is that any Iron Dome transfer would mostly be symbolic: Russian weaponry is of course much more sophisticated than the Palestinian rockets which the Dome routinely shoots down with such a high rate of success in Israel. To have a huge military impact, Ukraine would in fact need dozens of Iron Dome batteries, which do not even currently exist.

A country such as Israel is thus basically “bullied” by its Western partners to sort of “pledge allegiance” to Kiev’s cause by making concessions which, from the point of view of Israeli national interest, are just pointless.

On June 25, the Ukrainian embassy in Tel Aviv, employing an unprecedentedly harsh tone against its partner, criticized what it described as the Jewish state’s “pro-Russian” position, a label which today, in the Russophobic West, seems to be the ultimate insult, and went on to accuse Tel Aviv of “blatant disregard for moral boundaries.” The Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk was predictably summoned and reprimanded for that. In response, Israeli Foreign Minister Cohen insisted his country is pro-Ukrainian, citing its votes at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the dispatch of humanitarian aid, and some military cooperation.

Tel Aviv in fact has even turned a blind eye to Ukraine’s ongoing glorification of Nazi collaborators since the 2014 Maidan revolution – which is quite remarkable, considering how sensitive the issue is to Israelis and considering that the matter of far-right Ukrainian nationalism even hampers Kiev’s bilateral relations with Poland and Greece.

The Israeli position on the matter of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, in any case, has had its nuances. For example, shortly after the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict broke out in February 2022, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett acted briefly as a neutral mediator. One of the reasons why, despite all the American and Ukrainian pressure, Tel Aviv has never “turned its back” to Moscow lies in the Levant.

Whether one likes or not Bashar al- Assad, the truth is that, by cooperating with Assad’s Syria, Russia has, by Syrian invitation, played a major role in fighting terrorism in the region, notably by neutralizing the so-called “Islamic State” or Daesh terrorist group bases in Syria – infamous for their plundering and barbaric acts. In doing so, Moscow has certainly promoted peace and stability in the area. At the same time, it has been reported that Russia has turned a blind eye to some anti-Iranian Israeli actions there. Regarding Russian-Israeli relations, neither power wants to upset the other one too much so as to maintain cooperation and good pragmatic relations in a number of spheres.

Kiev’s biggest qualm with Tel Aviv lies, as anyone can see, on the fact that the former has insistently demanded that the latter provides it with weaponry, especially air defense systems – already in October 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, in an interview with French TV5 Channel, that “I don’t know what happened to Israel. I am in shock, because I don’t understand why they couldn’t give us air defenses.” Tel Aviv in turn has indeed consistently denied all such demands and requests, limiting its assistance to non-lethal equipment and humanitarian aid.

The Jewish State and the Russian Federation have an informal “de-escalation” or “deconfliction” agreement regarding the Levant since the end of 2015 and also cooperate on several areas.

To sum it up, Tel Aviv sees Moscow as a great power, with which it must engage in a number of issues in the Middle East and beyond. Russia and Israel, for one thing, have a working relationship today in the Levant, and, from an Israeli point of view, there is no reason to damage bilateral relations.