Israel: America’s strategic ally is ideologically with Putin

Note: This piece was written days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is more relevant than ever.

When Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was asked about his position on Ukraine, he was quick to explain the complexity of the situation in which Israel finds itself. Not only are there large Jewish communities in Russia and Ukraine, he said, but of all Western countries, Israel alone is bordered by Russia! Yes, no more and no less. Since 2015 Russia has been present on the northeast border of Israel (more exactly, on what Israel considers its border). At the request of Syria’s Bashar Assad, in the midst of his bloody civil war with democratic forces, Russia took over in Syria with the full consent of Israel and the willing blindness of the West. After that Putin became Israel’s strategic ally, together with Donald Trump, and the two allowed Israel to do as it pleased in Syria, Iran and the Occupied Territories.  Hence the hems and haws of Israel concerning Ukraine.

Putin did not simply take over Syria, he committed genocide and other crimes against humanity there. He transformed entire cities into ruins, causing a humanitarian catastrophe that continues to this day. In December 2016, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled War Crimes in the month of the bombing of Aleppo, in which 440 civilians were killed, including 90 children. All of this came after President Obama drew a red line for the Syrian regime against the use of chemical weapons. This line did not prevent Assad from using such weapons against his citizens, and Obama then made do with a proposal by Putin to remove chemical weapons from Syria in coordination with Israel. This paved the way for Putin’s takeover of Syria, including the Latakia Port and the Khmeimim Air Base. From then until today, the understandings between the Israeli government and Putin are clear: Russia will not deprive Israel of freedom of action in the air above Syria, and in return Israel will not interfere with Russia’s actions anywhere else, which today means Ukraine.

As the crisis in Ukraine worsens, Israel is exposed in all its shame. Bibi Netanyahu, we recall, had warm relations with Putin and Trump, both of whom helped in his election campaigns. Putin gave Israel the bodies of its soldiers who had been buried in Syria, while Trump gave Bibi an embassy in Jerusalem and recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights. Putin helped Trump in the 2016 election campaign, and Bibi bluntly intervened in Congress against Obama and the nuclear deal with Iran. This alliance was undoubtedly ideal for Bibi while it lasted. With the rise of Joe Biden, however, the celebration ended, but Israel’s “government of change” refuses to acknowledge the new reality.

According to Israel, the danger to world peace is Iran and not Russia. Israel’s position is that compared to Iran, whose fundamentalist regime seeks regional dominance, Ukraine is an intra-regional problem. Asked about his position on Ukraine, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he was not at all interested. What interests him, he said, is what is happening in Vienna, where a new nuclear agreement between the West and Iran is afoot. For the U.S. and the West, however, Iran is a regional issue with marginal impact on world peace, whereas Putin, via Ukraine, wants to change the world-order, bringing Europe back to the days before the fall of the USSR. Russia, they point out, is not alone in having territorial claims. So do Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Greece, and Poland (vis-à-vis the Czech Republic). A Russian occupation of Ukraine will take us back to the 19th century border conflicts.

It is no secret that Putin is using Russia’s army to gain points in the face of his domestic failures. Russia is a backward country that has nothing to offer its people. The USSR disbanded because of the nature of the totalitarian communist regime, whose corruption pervaded all spheres of life. Putin’s Russia renounced socialism and the nationalized economy, but it remained centralized and totalitarian: the oligarchy replaced the communist bureaucracy and took over the country’s resources. It is a failed state not because of the US or NATO, but because of Putin. The oligarchs he nurtured plundered the country’s treasures. They smuggled their wealth to the West, settling in London, Europe and North America with the kind help of Britain, Germany and even the United States. Despite its richness in minerals, Russia’s GDP remains at $10,000 per capita, compared to $60,000 in the United States and $40,000 in Israel. An occupied Ukraine, which is even poorer, will not cure the ills of Russian society, but only aggravate the suffering of Russians and Ukrainians alike.

Putin’s ideology and course of action are very much in line with Israel’s ideology and course of action. Israel also views military power as its chief means of achieving political goals. Its military force imposes the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza, deters Iran and motivates the alliance with the Gulf states. In this respect, the American reluctance to go to war, its hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and the diversion of attention to the economic confrontation with China are all perceived in Israel as signs of weakness. The prevailing Israeli perception is that the world is a jungle, military power is the guarantee for the existence of the state, and it must not look too closely at friendly dictatorial regimes and the atrocities they inflict. On the contrary, best give them full backing— and sell them Pegasus spyware.

Israel is now torn between loyalty to Putin, its ideological ally, and America, its strategic ally. Biden is a liberal who opposes Trump and everything he represents. He tries to revive the welfare state, seeks to impose taxes on the internet giants, supports the rights of minorities (especially blacks), conducts a conscious climate policy, opposes totalitarian regimes, boycotts Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman (responsible for the murder of journalist  Jamal Khashoggi), abhors the Chinese regime, opposes the theory of racial superiority, and fights xenophobia. All of these qualities are incompatible with Zionist nationalist ideology, with Israel’s citizenship law and nation-state law, and with the apartheid it practices toward Arabs. Thus, Israel’s strategic ally is an ideological adversary, while tactical allies such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the Emirates, Morocco, Egypt and Sudan give Israel the leeway to do what it pleases in the Middle East.

The position of the Da’am Workers Party toward Putin did not have to wait for his aggression against Ukraine. It was already determined by the genocide he committed in Syria. Those who did not stop him in Syria now receive him at the gates of Ukraine. Putin is not only the enemy of America and the democratic West, he is the enemy of all those young people in Syria, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the rest of the world who aspire to live free in the 21st century. The West’s struggle against Putin brings hope back to the hearts of millions of Syrians, Egyptians, and Iraqis who have taken to the streets to overthrow dictatorial regimes under the slogan “Bread, freedom and social justice!” Putin’s defeat will be the victory of all who demand these things. Da’am stands squarely on the side of Ukrainians who refuse to accept a life shorn of human rights like the life imposed by Putin on Russia.

About Yacov Ben Efrat