Why Israel mediates between Russia and Ukraine – The Journal

Israeli PM takes on unlikely role of mediator between Russia and Ukraine with surprise visit to Moscow

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — With his surprise visit to Moscow on Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is taking on the unlikely role of mediator between Russia and Ukraine.

Bennett, who led the country for less than a year and was largely untested on the world stage, placed Israel in an uncomfortable middle ground between Russia and Ukraine before the war, creating a launching pad from which to emerge as an actor in diplomatic efforts.

But wading through international mediation in the midst of the war could be a minefield for Israel. It relies on its ties to the Kremlin for security coordination in Syria, and with Moscow sitting at the negotiating table with Iran over its nuclear program, Israel cannot afford to anger President Vladimir Putin. . Moreover, it is not known if the efforts, which would have been coordinated with the United States, will bear fruit.

Here’s a look at the unexpected new player in the Ukraine crisis:

BENNETT’S BET

Bennett came to power last year as part of a pact between eight ideologically disparate parties determined to oust former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A religious Jew who has made millions in the country’s high-tech sector, Bennett has served in various Cabinet positions in the past, but lacks the charisma and international experience of his predecessor. Mediation between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Putin, a former KGB agent, will test him like never before.

Opponents at home view Bennett’s rule as illegitimate because they disapprove of the way he came to power and public opinion has not been in his favor in recent months. Further criticism arose as the Russia-Ukraine war approached over Bennett’s reluctance to censor Russia – breaking with Israel’s sanctions-escalating allies in the West.

While Bennett repeatedly expressed his support for the Ukrainian people, he refrained from condemning the Russian invasion.

As Western sanctions mounted, Bennett maintained contact with Putin and Zelenskyy, who reportedly asked Bennett to begin mediating between the sides. With his visit to Moscow, he became the only Western leader to meet the Russian president since the start of the war.

His involvement in such a high-profile, high-stakes conflict could breathe life into his political fortunes.

“Bennett has reinvented himself,” said Esther Lopatin, an expert in EU affairs at Tel Aviv University. “Here is someone who was suffering in the polls, who was facing public criticism. Turns out he can pull rabbits out of his hat.

A DIPLOMATIC MINEFIELD

Israel is one of the few countries that has good working relations with Russia and Ukraine. He delivered 100 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the country and announced that he would set up a field hospital there. Ukraine is also home to some 200,000 Jews, hundreds of whom have already fled to Israel, and many more are expected.

But Israel’s ties with Russia are of strategic importance. Israel relies on Russia for security coordination in Syria, where Russia has a military presence and where Israeli jets have frequently struck targets believed to be weapons caches for Israel’s enemies.

Russia is also among the powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program in Vienna, where a deal is imminent. Israel opposes the deal, saying it does not sufficiently limit Iran’s nuclear activities and has frequently discussed this opposition with Russia in the past.

If Israel’s outreach turns into outright mediation, Israel will have to maintain this neutral stance, breaking with the West, even as Russia’s assault intensifies. Any wrong move and any relationship with Putin could deteriorate. If the talks fail, Bennett could appear to have been foiled by Putin’s trickery and could be blamed for the escalation of the conflict.

And as one of the only Western allies not to have engaged in overtly hostile rhetoric toward Moscow, Israel will be the West’s primary diplomatic tie to the Kremlin, a delicate and understated position. pressure.

CHANCES OF SUCCESS?

Hours after returning from the trip, Bennett told his Cabinet that it was Israel’s moral duty to intervene, “even if the odds are not great.” With this, a country that has traditionally benefited from international mediation with Palestinians and Arab nations was poised to become the mediator.

“We have the feeling that there is an opening, that nobody is talking to Putin. Israel is a player that can speak to both sides,” said Vera Michlin-Shapir, a former head of Israel’s National Security Council and author of “Fluid Russia,” a book about the country’s national identity. “But what happens in the future?”

Michlin-Shapir warned that Israel does not necessarily have the diplomatic tools to properly arbitrate such a complex crisis, regardless of goodwill. Efforts by France and Turkey – larger players internationally – have failed to avert conflict.

“On the one hand, (Bennett) improved his international position overnight and won a lot of political points in Israel. On the other hand, he is taking a huge risk, not only for himself as a politician, but for the State of Israel and its position in the world,” commentator Barak Ravid wrote on the Israeli website Walla News.

“The Prime Minister waded through the Ukrainian mud without knowing exactly how deep it is.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Sunday, March 6, 2022. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett greets a group of orphans from the Alumim orphanage in the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr upon his arrival in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport, Sunday, March 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool )

Comments are closed.