Spoiler – We are not Russia

Too many so called “security experts” have recently been explaining why we need to starve Gaza and prevent humanitarian aid in order to achieve the objectives of the war.  They assert that we must explain to the naïve Americans how things work in the Middle East.  It seems that these commentators have become confused, thinking that Israel can permit itself to act like Russia, both morally, as if we are a totalitarian country, and strategically, as if we also have the right of veto in the Security Council like Russia.

Indeed, under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel maintains distorted and strange relations with Russia that join a wide range of Israeli behaviors in the past decade that increasingly distinguish Israel from the free world and lead us toward the bench of the world pariahs.  One would have thought it is reasonable to assume that in the face of Russian support of Hamas, we would have stopped veering in the direction of the nation whose people committed war crimes, including rape of civilians. However, it transpires that such an assumption is mistaken.

Since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many western companies have abandoned Russia.  They have done so in order to stifle the economy of an aggressor nation that carries out war crimes and against the leader of which an international arrest warrant has been issued by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.  The Russian economy is in bad shape, but its size and huge domestic market, together with broad economic ties with countries such as China, Iran and Turkey, enable it to at least give an impression of business as usual, while it continues its aggression against Ukraine.

However, there are those who suggest that we should act like Russia. They want Israel to starve, destroy and kill as much as possible. And what will happen if we are sanctioned, they are asked?  If Russia has survived, we will also survive, they answer.  Those same people argue that we should adopt the Russian example of brutal conduct in war and simply ignore moral considerations, as if there are no basic norms to which Israel is obligated to follow as a liberal democracy, and a country that wishes to be part of the West and to earn international legitimacy from it.

A country like Russia can perhaps allow itself to break all the rules, to massacre and to destroy and without significant economic damage thanks to its political power, together with its being a central part of the axis of the autocratic countries. Countries that the Netanyahu government sought to flirt with, only to discover the bitter truth, that in a war against Hamas, they hurry to side with Hamas.

Our defense accords, both written and unwritten, are based on democratic principles shared with the United States, Germany and other western countries.  Our economy is based on commerce with the western nations.  Israel does not have the resources to become an autocratic island state, politically and economically, cut off from the West and banished from the East.

The Gaza War has also provided us with an important lesson regarding the limitations of our power and our true abilities and the supreme importance of preserving proper relationships with our allies, relationships based upon acceptance of and obedience to the international norms.  We have learned that we need the United States not only for purposes of its veto at the UN, but also in order to conduct the war.  We learned, and the entire world has seen, that Israel could not have fought as it did without the shipment of armaments from the US, without the military, economic and diplomatic backing that was extended to us and that saved and is still saving us from a bloody regional quagmire.

Preserving our humanity is not only a moral imperative, it is part of Israel’s defense wall.  If we fantasize about being like Russia in Ukraine or like China against the Uyghur minority, not only will we become an immoral nation, we will find ourselves isolated throwing off altogether the central strengths of Israel.

Russia can afford to behave in this manner, but we will become easy prey for our enemies who have already proven how well they are able to identify weakness and to exploit it.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.