Could Bibi Be the One To Broker a Ukraine Peace Deal?

As a seasoned statesman in a turbulent part of the world, Netanyahu could be uniquely positioned to do so.

Abir Sultan/pool via AP
Prime Minister Netanyahu attends a hearing at the Magistrate's Court at Rishon LeZion, Israel, January 23, 2023. Abir Sultan/pool via AP

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he would “certainly consider” taking on the role of mediator between Russia and Ukraine. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that aired Tuesday evening, the Israeli said he might do so “if asked by all relevant parties,” to include not just the two warring countries but America.

Mr. Netanyahu also said that he is not pushing himself into any prospective mediation process between Moscow and Kyiv because “you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen.” Yet if few world  leaders have seemed willing or able to offer to help negotiate a ceasefire nearly a year after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Netanyahu, as a seasoned statesman in a turbulent part of the world, could be uniquely positioned to do so. 

In that respect, Mr. Netanyahu has a leg up on the Turkish president, Tayyip Erdogan, who has been credited with almost getting Russia and Ukraine to the same table, but whose efforts have largely been limited to arranging a deal for the safe passage of grain from Ukrainian ports like Odessa across the Black Sea — no insignificant achievement but short of the kind of mediation that would likely be necessary to bring Vladimir Putin to heel.

There is also the uniqueness of Israel’s relationship with Russia to consider. Jerusalem has resisted vilifying Moscow — not out of any sympathy for its belligerence to its neighbor, but out of longstanding strategic considerations of its own. “What we have with Russia,” Mr. Netanyanhu has told CNN, “is a complex relationship because not very far from here, a few miles from here on our northern border with Syria, Israeli aircraft and Russian aircraft are flying within spitting distance of each other.”

So if the relations between Moscow and Jerusalem are not exactly cordial, they do endure, and without much of the political baggage that inevitably burdens the Russian-American relationship largely on account of the legacy of the Cold War. After the recent deadly terrorist attack at Jerusalem, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, phoned his Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, to offer his condolences.

Ukraine is well aware of the Israeli potential to help mediate in a war that has, by conservative estimates, already led to the deaths of more than 250,000 people, including Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and civilians in Ukraine. In March, only days after the invasion started, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Naftali Bennett, met with Mr. Putin at the Kremlin, and spoke with President Zelensky by phone afterward.

Before that, Mr. Netanyahu said that he had fielded an “unofficial” request to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine but did not do so because at the time he was serving as Israel’s opposition prime minister. The view from Ukraine, of course, is a little different. Mr. Zelensky has forsworn any dialogue with the Russian strongman. His top strategic adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, publicly describes the Russians as “killers” and worse.

Mr. Podolyak does so at every opportunity, all part of a campaign to turn the Russia of Vladimir Putin into a global pariah. In the latest example, Ukraine is pressuring the International Olympic Committee to prevent Russians from competing at the 2024 Summer Games. Israel is likely to stay out of that kind of fray. In October, though, Mr. Zelensky announced that Israel had begun sharing intelligence with Ukraine.

Now, after more than two months of a bloody stalemate along a long front line stretching across Ukraine’s south and east, Russian forces have turned once-placid places like the embattled city of Bakhmut into hellscapes, and it could get worse. Mr. Zelensky warned on Monday night that Russia is out for “big revenge.” What world leader is better schooled in the psychology of revenge, and how in the messiest of times to manage it, than Bibi Netanyahu?


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