As Russia increases its attacks on Ukraine, both global support of Ukraine on the one hand and pressure on Russia on the other are growing. Support comes in the shape of foreigners volunteering to fight on behalf of Ukraine and countries sending equipment. Israel, like other countries, is sending humanitarian aid, e.g., setting up a field hospital inside of Ukraine and building refugee aid centers on its borders.
On the flipside, the United States and other countries have taken steps against Russia, freezing its central bank’s assets, removing some banks from SWIFT, imposing sanctions on Russian oligarchs, while a myriad of companies have suspended or ended operations in the country, including three credit cards, the big four accounting firms, three entertainment companies, two tech companies and more. Yale University’s tracker is showing over 300 companies have withdrawn from Russia to date.
In parallel to the physical battle, war is being conducted in the realm of communications, online and over the airwaves. Here too, we see two flavors – supporting Ukraine and condemning Russia. Ukraine recruited cyber warrior volunteers to both carry out attacks and to gather and this decentralized group is not alone. Corporations have donated internet domains and cloud services. On the other side, Anonymous hacked Russian television stations and streaming services, broadcasting footage of the war in Ukraine which tells a different story than what the government is telling its citizens. (Interestingly, guests on a state television show in Russia actually voiced criticism.) I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention independent media services in Russia, like The Moscow Times, which offers stories I am not seeing elsewhere. It is only here, that I learned about Russians fleeing the country and cultural figures speaking out against what the government is doing.
Rounds of talks have not brought resolution. The Russian military has achieved nothing strategically except cause widespread damage while killing and displacing more and more civilians. In the article, “More Russian troops were killed in Ukraine in 2 weeks than U.S. troops in entire Iraq War, U.S. estimates,” it is noted that Putin not only planned the invasion in secrecy but truly thought Ukrainians would be happy to be liberated. One Ukrainian diplomat noted that troops did not have extra ammo or food…but they did have their victory parade uniforms. Perhaps one reason their tank line never advanced as it should have was they ran out of gas. Who knows? What we do know is that Putin appears to be striking out worse as if that will help him look better. It won’t. (Honestly, I am still puzzled as to how someone whose business at the KGB was in intelligence, cold have been off by so much. All I can think of is he was oblivious of the danger of surrounding oneself with sycophants.)
But what does this all mean? I think it means that Israel is in a position to play a pivotal role. For this, though, Prime Minister Bennett will have to step up.
Israel’s unique position brings its own set of complexities. The country wants to help Ukrainians while not wanting to risk the relationship it has with Russia which allows it to enter Russian-controlled Syrian airspace to protect Israel’s security interests. While Israel has condemned the invasion, sent humanitarian aid, expressed solidarity with Ukraine and helped Ukrainians leave, it has not sent military aid. But as Russia’s attacks on Ukraine grow deadlier, Bennett’s tightrope becomes tauter. Allowing oligarchs’ private jets in is a no-no. So is lighting up walls with the flags from both countries.
Still, it is clear to Bennett that Ukraine’s survival lays in the balance à la his call “to act rapidly to get the two sides out of the battlefield and on to the negotiation table.” With stakes so high, Israel’s position has the potential to transform it into a more pivotal player. Zelensky has asked Jerusalem to mediate, and while Bennett carved a space for relaying messages back and forth when he took his Shabbat trip, what he did not do is find a solution.
A way out
Call me naïve, but what I think needs to happen now – and what Israel could leverage into very positive public opinion – is for Bennett and his advisors to devise a way for Putin both to pull out of Ukraine and to save face. Spin what has been done into an achievement. Find something he could tell the Kremlin is a victory. Offer him a clever way to go back to his people with his head up while his troops withdraw.
If successful, Israel’s Prime Minister could end a completely unnecessary war which has already caused thousands of deaths on both sides and displaced over 2.5 million people. The question is – will Bennett see this opportunity? And will he take advantage of it?