Ahead of North Atlantic Summit, Israel Encourages Ukraine To Strive for Self-Reliance

Kyiv turns to Israel for help while voting against it at the United Nations.

AP/Jae C. Hong
A dove painted by artist TvBoy adorns the wall of a building damaged by Russian shelling attacks at Irpin, Ukraine. AP/Jae C. Hong

Ukraine often turns to Israel “for various requests” yet “votes for anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations in 90 percent of cases” according to Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Michael Brodsky.  He made the comment and a raft of others that some might consider impolitic in a broad-ranging and contentious interview with the Ukrainian newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, known as ZN. 

The remarks are a stark reminder of the complexity of international relations more than 500 days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which at an upcoming  two-NATO parley at Vilnius will be seeking firmer assurances from the military bloc.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine exposed fault lines in the relationship between Jerusalem and Kyiv. While Israel has unequivocally condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has also engaged in a delicate balancing act due to Russia’s entrenched presence in that original powder keg, the Middle East.

Mr. Brodsky told his Ukrainian interlocutors that “You know that Russia is very clearly and actively present in Syria, especially since 2015,” adding that “Syria and Lebanon are our interests related to Israel’s national security. Something that no Israeli government will be willing to concede.”

Like Turkey, Israel has also not signed on to economic sanctions of Russia, a fact that grates on Ukraine but that also has its roots in Israel’s unique and unenviable domestic security exigencies. The ambassador stated that “there was no precedent in the history of Israel when our state imposed unilateral sanctions against a country. Israeli law does not provide for such a possibility. At the same time, Israel declared that it would not act to circumvent sanctions.”

Ukraine and Israel approach what they perceive as imperatives to national survival in different ways. One thing they have in common is a certain bluntness in their dialogue, which sometimes causes friction. Last week, Jerusalem summoned the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, for what Mr. Brodsky termed “a very serious conversation.”

It followed “the latest statement by the Ukrainian ambassador that Israel does not help Ukraine in any way and was in solidarity with Russia.” Mr. Brodsky said that the statement had “outraged the Israeli Foreign Ministry.”

Ukraine’s hackles with respect to what it perceives as counterproductive neutrality on Israel’s part in the conflict are raised, as evidenced in the continuous prodding for weaponry that Jerusalem, despite other forms of assistance, will adamantly not dispatch. It is, however,  in the process of giving Ukraine an early warning system to bolster its air defenses. 

The Ukrainian newspaper pressed, however, that “Germany has always maintained that it does not provide weapons to countries at war. But, as you can see, Germany is currently the second largest arms supplier” — although that is not true; the first and second largest suppliers of arms to Ukraine are America and Britain, respectively. 

In any case, that nudge drew a characteristically stubborn response from the Israeli ambassador: “Please note that 99 percent of the states that supply weapons to Ukraine are members of the NATO alliance,” Mr. Brodsky said, adding “First of all, they do not fight, unlike my country. Israel is a country at war, and just [recently] another operation to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in the city of Jenin ended.” 

And the coup de grâce, as it were: “Secondly, Israel is a country that can rely only on itself in case of aggression, unlike NATO members who are protected by the collective security agreement.”

It is precisely for that collective security protection that Ukraine wishes to gain with membership in the North Atlantic Treaty. While it is highly likely that it will not be forthcoming — at least not until the war ends — the topic will still dominate the agenda this week at Vilnius, precisely because there is still no end to hostilities in sight. 

Mr. Brodsky reiterated that there has not been an end to Israel’s regional headaches in its 75 years of existence. Hence “it is wrong,” he said, “to approach Israel with the same standards with which Ukraine approaches NATO countries.”

The conversation with the Israeli diplomat and the Ukrainian journalists reads like a case study in realpolitik, something increasingly absent in much of the Western press’s lockstep but arguably reductive backing for providing assistance to Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” as President Biden has said. 

Reality is more nuanced and, as all Israelis know to the core, sometimes of a brutality that no amount of political platitudes or sound bites can obscure. In that respect, Mr. Brodsky’s characterization of Ukraine’s poor track record on supporting Israel in the UN as “an abnormal situation” is par for the course. 

“Public statements by government members and the prime minister that Russia is an aggressor country are also important. But we don’t hear that from Netanyahu,” the ZN team stated. Mr. Brodsky replied, “in  Israel there are clear ‘red lines’ where the protection of our population and the security of our state come first. I think this is quite normal and logical.”

The Ukrainian interviewers were insistent that Israel could still give Ukraine weapons outside the aegis of NATO because Israel receives military assistance from America.  “We have a treaty on military assistance,” Mr. Brodsky countered, “but no one in Israel expects the United States to fight for us.”

“America’s  help is valuable, but it is not decisive — Israel has been relying exclusively on itself for decades,” Mr. Brodsky said. He added, “ I am sure that Ukraine will come to the same conclusion. You have no other choice.”


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