(January 25, 2023 / JNS)
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For the last 11 months, Israel has sought to signal its opposition to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine while avoiding being dragged into a war that compromises its own security and interests. Threading that needle has been a difficult task, but it was an issue on which both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political foe—Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid—have been in agreement.
Nevertheless, Israel is now being made to pay a steep price for the war. The news, broken last week by The New York Times, that the U.S. is emptying the strategic reserve of arms and ammunition it has stored in Israel for Middle East emergencies, as well as for the Jewish state to draw on in the event of its being attacked, marks a turning point.
Should a conflict with either Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon break out at the behest of Iran, or, in a nightmare strategic scenario, with both simultaneously, consequences for the Israel Defense Forces could be serious.
Israel has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including a temporary field hospital on the Polish border when the fighting in that region was at its height. It also has taken in refugees and provided intelligence to the Ukrainians.
But with Russia occupying part of neighboring Syria and granting Israel overflight rights to strike Iranian and other terrorist targets, the Jewish state needs to avoid a conflict with Moscow. Similarly, with Russia’s remaining Jewish population essentially being hostages held by President Vladimir Putin, Israel has every reason to remain neutral.
This hasn’t prevented Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy from subjecting Israel to a ferocious campaign of pressure aimed at forcing it to ally itself with Kyiv.
It began with a virtual speech to the Knesset last spring, when Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, engaged in what amounted to Holocaust denial. During his address, he falsely claimed that Ukrainians had stood in solidarity with Jews during the genocide, when, In fact, they were the most enthusiastic ofNazi collaborators.
He has stopped at nothing to leverage sympathy for his country’s plight in order to persuade the Israelis to join the war. Curiously, his attempts have not been accompanied by a willingness to back Israel against the campaign of delegitimization against it in international forums. To the contrary, Ukraine’s anti-Israel votes at the United Nations have coincided with its harsh accusations that Jerusalem isn’t doing enough to defeat Russia.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Zelenskyy then attempted to blackmail Netanyahu into giving him some of his country’s vital air-defense systems, in exchange for Ukraine switching its vote on an antisemitic U.N. resolution targeting Israel.
Nothing the Ukrainian president actually does outside of his war leadership is given much coverage in the mainstream corporate press. His suppression of political rivals and opposition press outlets—not to mention churches that he has labeled as traitorous for having ties to religious authorities inside Russia—are all ignored. Belief in the myth that he’s the second coming of Winston Churchill and the pristine leader of a Jeffersonian democracy remains widespread.
Sympathy for Ukraine’s suffering people and admiration for its armed forces’ performance in the face of the Russian invasion are nearly universal. So is support for the country’s right to self-determination.
The United States gave Ukraine more than $100 billion in aid to continue the war—a staggering sum that’s likely to increase in 2023. At the same time, both the U.S. and Western Europe are doubling down on their backing by providing heavy weapons like tanks.
These moves come at a time when it’s clear that the Russian invasion has been stymied, and the fighting has become a bloody stalemate that’s starting to resemble trench warfare in World War One. Neither side can win the decisive victory it wants.
Still, President Joe Biden and other allies are backing Zelenskyy’s maximalist war policy. His goal is the eviction of Russian forces from what remains of the territory it overran last winter, most of which has been retaken by Ukraine, as well as the parts of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea that have been in Moscow’s hands since 2014.
No serious person believes such a total Ukrainian victory is possible. By the same token, Putin’s incompetent military—which many in the foreign-policy establishment still foolishly speak of as if it were the powerful Red Army that defeated Hitler and threatened Western Europe during the Cold War—has no prospect of achieving its original aim of conquering all of Ukraine.
While there is much talk about not wanting to grant Putin any legitimacy or a moral victory, those who think sinking more arms and money into this war will lead to his fall are engaging in wishful thinking.
The sensible response to this crisis should be to push for an end to a war that is causing so much suffering and death. But Washington is so besotted with Zelenskyy that it is prepared to risk a confrontation that could lead to a catastrophic World War Three nuclear scenario.
What’s more, Biden is stripping the American military of its supplies of arms and ammunition in order to feed the Ukrainian military’s insatiable demands. That has already left U.S. military forces in a dangerously low state of readiness.
Supporters of unlimited aid to Ukraine say they are sending a message that the West will not tolerate aggression. But the astonishing decision to treat the territorial integrity of Ukraine as the Number One U.S. security priority has had an unintended consequence. It has created a situation in which the West would be unable to come to the aid of Taiwan, should it be invaded by China, the nation that is, contrary to the overblown fears about Russia, by far the most potent threat to American security and global influence.
That’s the context for the decision to empty out the American strategic reserves of arms and ammunition located in Israel. Sacrificing the ability to respond rapidly to a threat to American allies and interests in the Middle East is a steep price to pay to help Ukraine sustain an endless and unwinnable war.
It’s also one more sign that the Biden administration, like that of former President Barack Obama and in contrast to that of Donald Trump, has downgraded its support for Israel and moderate Arab states in favor of a new strategy that sees them as a burden rather than vital allies.
This move, which makes Israel less secure and may embolden Iran and its terrorist auxiliaries, ought to have generated a firestorm of criticism. But Jerusalem is rightly afraid of pushing back too hard against the pro-Ukraine consensus.
It nevertheless should stick to its refusal to be drawn into a conflict that has unknowable consequences for its security. Biden’s helping to escalate a war that he should be trying to end won’t lead to a Ukrainian victory. What it will do, like his unsuccessful efforts to appease Iran, is make the Middle East an even more dangerous place for Israel and other U.S. allies.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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