Everything else I had intended to write is set aside, as I examine the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the multiple ways it affects us here in Israel. It goes without saying that what I put out now may change within hours. The situation is enormously complex as it unfolds.
I begin with the highest praise for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish.
This man is putting his country ahead of himself – and this is literally, as his life is on the line. On Friday he declared that “I am staying in the government quarter together with others. The enemy has designated me as the target number one, and my family as the target number two.” He recognized that Russia wanted to “destroy Ukraine politically by taking down the head of state.”
When the Americans offered to get him out of the country yesterday, his response was that “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”
It is fervently to be wished that current Israeli leadership would be as diligent in putting country first.
And it’s not just President Zelinsky – although he most certainly serves as inspiration, leader and model: it is the citizenry of the Ukraine that is also showing an astounding fighting spirit. Ukraine, which had been part of the Russian Empire, secured independence in 1991 with the breakup of the USSR. Having tasted independence and established a growing relationship with western nations, they declare they will not return to their former status.
Ordinary citizens are being handed weapons and are prepared to fight in the street. Astounding stories are emerging of their fighting spirit.
And then there is Kira Rudik, a member of the Ukrainian Congress. On twitter she wrote:
“I learn to use #Kalashnikov and prepare to bear arms. It sounds surreal as just a few days ago it would never come to my mind. Our #women will protect our soil the same way as our #men. Go #Ukraine!“
Yesterday Rudik told Fox News:
“I’ve received messages from all the political leaders throughout the world, saying, ‘Yeah, Kyiv will fall this night,’ and watch us. We did not. We have more surprises coming for Putin’s army and the world how Ukrainians can stand for their country.” (Emphasis added)
All of this is rather astounding, as the world had expected a rout by the Russians. Instead they are finding it tough going, and reportedly Putin is fuming. There are reports that the Russian troops sent in were ill-trained conscripts and that supplies were meager. Putin may have thought this would require only a small effort. But there are indications that Russia’s “new” army is severely deficient.
When Russian hostilities began in earnest, a good number of nations responded promptly with sanctions – Russian banks were removed from SWIFT and Russia from oil markets; individual nations and the EU have closed airspace to Russian airlines, sale of Russians goods is being boycotted, etc.
And now, as the fierce spirit of resistance in the Ukraine has become evident, there is a greater readiness by other nations to provide support – with some military supplies being sent in via the western border of Ukraine. Belgium is supplying machine guns; the Dutch, rockets and anti-tank weapons; Germany, surface-to-air missiles, the US, anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, etc.
Zelensky also announced the formation of an International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine. He is inviting volunteers, who will be given weapons, to fight alongside the Ukrainians.
Additionally, the president has announced that his government is appealing to the International Court of Justice regarding Russia’s behavior and he is calling on Russia to lose its voting power as a member of the U.N. Security Council, charging that its attack on his country amounted to “criminal actions” that bore “signs of genocide.”
Putin, then, is being hit hard from all sides. But it is not for nothing that this former KGB agent has a reputation as ruthless. Thus he has raised the alert status for his nuclear forces to “special regime of combat duty,” introducing the specter of bringing in nuclear weapons. He may be serious, or, quite possibly, as many analysts believe, he is making these threats in the hopes that this will bring Ukraine to submit more quickly.
The United States and NATO on today condemned this order as dangerous and unacceptable.
There is a very considerable body of opinion among analysts that the current situation would not have evolved in Ukraine as it has, had Biden shown greater strength. What analyst Eli Lake refers to as Biden’s “surrender and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan” signaled to Putin his lack of resolve. Then there was Biden’s decision to waive U.S. sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline and his eagerness to rejoin the Iranian nuclear deal with less than favorable conditions. Putin drew definite conclusions from all of this with regard to how decisively Biden might be expected to act.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) had precisely the same analysis:
“We need strength and we need resolve. The reason Russia has invaded Ukraine is because of catastrophic mistakes made by President Biden…”
From this overall scenario, two related conclusions must be drawn by Israel:
One, that it is imperative for Israel to project a position of strength.
And then, that Israel must depend only on herself and never on the guarantees of others for her security.
One other factor I wish to address with regard to the current hostilities in Ukraine. Listen here to a very brief interview of David Friedman, former US ambassador to Israel, who says, quite rightly, that the subtext in this war is energy – energy dependence and the ability of Russia to finance the war because it draws major income from energy sales.
President Trump had supported the East Mediterranean Pipeline project, which involved Israel, Cyprus and Greece. This pipeline would have given Europe independence from Russian energy sources by providing major stores of natural gas from the Mediterranean. Biden cancelled this project. On the other hand, Biden lifted sanctions on Nord Stream 2, which would have given Germany increased amounts of gas from Russia. (Sanctions have now been re-applied.)
What is more, the sanctions on SWIFT do not involve energy finances – Russia’s ability to profit from its energy supplies is thus untouched.
What Friedman did not mention, but I will, is that President Trump had secured energy independence for the US, which Biden undercut with his various executive orders founded on progressive ecological concerns. This is precisely the reverse of what the US situation needs to be now.
With regard to the issue of Russia as a purveyor of energy for Europe, see this:
“Can Israel become Europe’s gas supplier?”
When nations began voicing criticism of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine I saw a problem immediately.
Israel regularly attacks Iranian installations in Syria – an important part of maintaining security, as Iran seeks to transfer weaponry to Hezbollah. Russia is also in Syria and has turned a blind eye to these attacks by virtue of an understanding worked out between Netanyahu and Putin some time ago. The primary concern was that Israel not accidentally hit Russian installations, and back in 2015, an agreement was reached “on a mechanism to prevent such misunderstandings.” As long as Israel avoided damaging Russian presence, nothing was said. In late 2021, Bennett met with Putin in Sochi and it was agreed that the “deconfliction agreement” – which seemed to have weakened of late – would be preserved.
Out of concern for this delicate situation, Prime Minister Bennett voiced support for Ukraine without specifically mentioning Russia. Foreign Minister Lapid then followed with direct criticism of Russian aggression, as indeed he had to: “The Russian attack on Ukraine is a serious violation of the international order. Israel condemns the attack…”
Right after Lapid spoke, Putin made a retaliatory comment about the Golan Heights not belonging to Israel; it seemed we were going to face a serious problem.
But, amazingly, this turns out to not be the case: Diplomatic messages were conveyed to Israel indicating that Russia understood that Lapid had to say what he did.
And then the Russian Embassy here in Israel indicated that it sees its military coordination with Israel over Syria continuing:
“Our military officials discuss the practical issues of this substantively on a daily basis. This mechanism has proven to be useful and will continue to work.”
A sigh of relief and a sense that Putin, who is certainly no antisemite, may indeed be predisposed to a certain generosity of attitude towards Israel, with all of his heinous behavior in other quarters.
And this observation leads to yet another factor in what is going on. Yesterday Zelensky had suggested that Israel – having solid relationships with both Ukraine and Russia – is the nation best suited in the world to negotiate a ceasefire. Putin suggested talks in Belarus, but Zelensky rejected this as not a neutral site. It was the staging ground for the beginning of Russia’s invasion and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba claimed that missiles from Belarus were continuing to hit Ukrainian cities.
Zelensky had proposed a number of other sites for a meeting but apparently agreed to a meeting on the border of Belarus, near the Pripat River. This followed a long phone call between Zelensky and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko. It was agreed that the Ukrainian and Russian delegations would meet without preconditions, but a specific location and time for the talks was not indicated. Lukashenko assured Zelensky that “all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on Belarus territory will remain on the ground during the travel, negotiations and return of the Ukrainian delegation.”
Zelensky has expressed great skepticism about positive results from this meeting, but said he was willing to try. The Ukrainians say they will not buckle in talks.
Earlier today, Bennett had called Putin and told him it was “one hour before midnight” and it was important to dialogue. He offered to be of assistance as he could, but Putin simply indicated that a Russian delegation was being sent to negotiate.
Attempting to maintain that delicate balance, Israel has supplied Ukraine with no weapons, but is sending in 100 tons of humanitarian aid to Ukrainians in combat areas.
The Israeli Embassy in Ukraine is being temporarily relocated to Poland.
Jewish Agency officials stand ready at a number of sites within countries bordering Ukraine to the west – in Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary – to arrange for aliyah for Ukrainian Jews coming out who request assistance to get to Israel. There have been at least 2,500 requests to date, and Israel is preparing for some 10,000 in total.
United Hatzalah relief and rescue agency last night deployed its initial group from Israel to work on the Ukrainian border with Moldova, providing medical and psychological treatment as well as humanitarian aid to refugees who are fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. The team is comprised of 12 EMTs, paramedics, doctors, a dentist, and members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit; others will follow.
Meanwhile, as the fourth day of fighting draws to a close, the Ukrainian military is reporting that is has successfully repelled advances by the Russian military.
My blood ran cold when I learned last night that Chechen forces, who are vicious, had been sent in. They had been deployed by Russia to enter Kyiv, the capital, and “capture and kill” Ukrainian leaders, including Zelensky.
Reports are that the Ukrainians have destroyed the convoy of 56 Chechen tanks; a top general and hundreds of other forces were killed.
While the mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, reported that Russian forces had successfully been repelled, after fierce battles in the streets.
© Arlene from Israel website. https://www.arlenefromisrael.info/