Russia’s murderous attack on Ukraine reminds Israel of a truth that the Jewish state’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, intuited decades ago: When the chips are down, Israel is on its own.
Even before Israel achieved statehood, its Zionist founders were living this existential fact of life, affirmed when Britain betrayed its Mandate for Palestine by carving out the majority of Palestine to create Trans-Jordan, and again when it issued its 1939 White Paper, trapping millions of Jews in the European slaughterhouse of the Holocaust.
Ben-Gurion and his successors in Israel’s War of Independence once again encountered this hard truth in the Six-Day War, as well as in Israel’s many battles against terror groups and in other crises over the years.
Israel knows well there can be mounds of international agreements, cordial declarations and statesmen’s pledges, but that when a formidable enemy—or a treacherous ally—disregards these pacts and sentiments, Israel, like Ukraine, stands alone.
Israel’s best friend, the United States, freely proclaims its “unbreakable bonds” with the Jewish state. But then—just months later—President Barack Obama betrayed those promises at the United Nations by failing to veto a Security Council resolution aimed at nullifying Israel’s sovereignty in parts of Jerusalem and its communities in Judea and Samaria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, like all tyrants before him, disregards all prior arrangements, in his case in pursuit of the re-establishment of the Russian Empire. Ukraine has suddenly become, for Putin, the Third Reich redux.
Recall that Ukrainians suffered perhaps the worst of Nazi Germany’s assault on Stalin’s USSR—after having suffered the worst of Stalin’s own barbaric insanity.
Improbably, Ukrainians elected President Volodymyr Zelensky, a Jewish comedian who lost many relatives in the Holocaust. His father was a decorated World War II Red Army hero. These facts have not prevented Putin from presenting an unhinged narrative about Ukraine’s alleged neo-Nazi regime.
Meanwhile, the world expresses outrage, levies limited, mostly toothless sanctions with little short-term urgency, and sends trickles of “defensive weapons” to stop a quarter of a million heavily armed Russian soldiers. Ukrainians may be putting up a plucky defense, but their fate is dubious at best.
As the world dithers in its response to Putin’s naked aggression, Israel needs to remember that when its survival as a nation is at stake—as Ukraine’s surely is—only Israel itself can ensure Israel’s future.
Like Ukraine, Israel is facing enemies that would love to see it disappear from the family of nations. Those enemies adhere to an utterly fictitious historical narrative about everything from Jewish history in the Middle East—including whether Jewish Temples existed—to the Mossad intelligence agency’s alleged deployment of killer dolphins.
Just as Putin invents a fictional history of Ukraine and alleges atrocities, Israel is regularly accused falsely by malicious NGOs of human-rights violations—even genocide and apartheid.
And, like today’s Ukraine, Israel has been left to fend for itself.
The United Nations in 1947 voted to partition Palestine. But not one of the international endorsers of the plan helped Israel militarily when it was swarmed by genocidal Arab armies in 1948.
None of these U.N. members would even supply Israel with the arms it desperately needed to repel the Arab horde invading from all directions. As the Bible predicted, Israel stood alone.
In 1967, the United Nations withdrew its “peacekeeping” force from the Sinai when Egypt’s Nasser demanded it. The U.N. force, ironically, was removed precisely when an Egyptian aggressor promised a genocidal war. Israel was deserted by all of its “allies,” but nonetheless—single-handedly—turned the debacle into a stunning victory.
Israel now faces one of its greatest challenges: A nuclear Iran. Iran has proclaimed that it will destroy Israel and will soon possess the nuclear and missile weaponry to do so.
With the Obama administration’s 2015 Iran deal, the elite of the United Nations—a team of negotiators from the Security Council’s permanent members plus Germany—gave Israel’s vicious enemy precisely what it wanted: A roadmap to achieving nuclear weaponry, just (supposedly) delayed by a decade.
Iran secretly continued its nuclear program, leading Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, to renounce American support for the toothless deal. Iran now stands just months from nuclear “breakout.”
Now, President Biden’s team is in Vienna, negotiating a replacement agreement with Iran that observers expect will be even weaker than the old one, and which Iran will certainly continue cheating on.
The same world order that failed to protect Ukraine from Russia now effetely insists that it can deter Iran from nuking Israel.
It bears repeating: Only Israel can ensure Israel’s survival. Israel knows that this matter can only be decided in Jerusalem—not at the Vienna negotiations or the New York headquarters of the United Nations.
No nation can outsource its own survival. Israel’s best friend, America, is only as reliable as the administration and the sitting congressional majority. Israel cherishes American support, but Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett—like his predecessors—cannot take the chance of suffering the same fate as President Zelensky’s Ukraine.
Israel has always maintained its self-reliance. The wisdom and urgency of providing Israel with defense resources—like Iron Dome funding and other military assets—is underscored by Putin’s actions in Ukraine. This support reduces Israel’s vulnerability to its enemies and advances the cause of peace in the Middle East.
Ukraine reminds Israel of the danger of relying on “the kindness of strangers.” In the case of Iran, any nuclear pact that is not verifiably ironclad only assures that Israel will need to act to ensure its future—as it always has.
Ken Cohen is co-editor of the Hotline published by Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which offers educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.