U.S. officials are reportedly annoyed by Israel’s tepid criticism of Russia

Israel has sent mixed signals about the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, and its stance is evidently annoying the White House and some Republicans too. Israel evidently wants to stay on terms with Russia because it controls the Syrian air space and allows Israel to attack targets inside Syria.

Last week Israel refrained from supporting a U.S. resolution in the UN General Assembly condemning the invasion, and it has reportedly refused to supply arms to the Ukrainians. Yesterday it joined 140 member countries at the U.N. in voting for a resolution that deplores the invasion and demands a withdrawal. “Israel was and will be on the right side of history,” said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in a statement. “We have a moral duty and historical obligation to be part of the effort.”

But Lapid has been called the “bad cop” in the Israeli diplomacy, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been more balanced in his comments. He spoke to Vladimir Putin on Sunday, Day 3 of the invasion, and the readout was very neutral. “The two discussed the situation between Russia and the Ukraine.” Bennett also has issued a strategic statement on the invasion: “The State of Israel… has taken a measured, responsible line, which allows us not only to safeguard our interests, but also to benefit.”

Yesterday Bennett met with visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and said that Israel “stands with the people of Ukraine.”

Bennett appears to heed former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who forged relations with Vladimir Putin — and who on Monday warned Israeli politicians not to be too outspoken on Ukraine’s behalf. “In days like these, it’s advisable to take positions with the utmost caution,” Netanyahu said. “Unfortunately, in the last few days we’ve heard too many unnecessary expressions and too many false predictions.”

While condemning the Russian investigation, Lapid has not been especially forceful. He has stressed humanitarian efforts, saying Israel is acting to rescue “thousands” of Israelis from the Ukraine, while Bennett has bragged about saving 100 Jewish orphans from the “inferno of Ukraine,” and of sending medical supplies and teams.

Israeli officials have repeatedly tried to turn the subject to a more pressing issue, the supposed existential threat of Iran.

Washington is reported to be angry over Israel’s neutrality. Axios:

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield protested to her Israeli counterpart over Israel’s refusal to join 87 countries in backing a U.S.-led resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the UN Security Council on Friday, Israeli officials tell Axios.

Israel defended its decision not to co-sponsor the resolution by saying that Russia was just going to veto it anyway.

Barak Ravid reports at Axios that Israel’s refusal to join in caused consternation throughout the administration.

A senior Biden administration official told me the U.S. understands Israel’s interests regarding Russia in Syria. But after Russia invaded Ukraine, U.S. officials urged Israel to take a clear stance and be on the right side of the issue, the official said.

“We told the Israelis this is a moment of right and wrong,” the official said…. On Sunday, the Biden administration was initially concerned when it heard reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Cabinet ministers not to speak publicly about the Russian invasion and not to criticize Russia, a U.S. official said.

Both Axios and Haaretz say that White House and State Department officials expressed their annoyance. Ben Samuels at Haaretz reported yesterday:

U.S. officials are growing increasingly impatient with Israel’s attempts to support Ukraine without alienating Russia, arguing that anything less than full support for the beleaguered nation falls short.

Israel’s stance is out of sync with the international community and has provoked rare bipartisan criticism in Washington, as Jerusalem strives to maintain Moscow’s permission to operate over Syria, where Russia effectively controls the airspace and lets Israel attack Iranian targets according to numerous foreign reports….

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is one of the biggest Israel supporters in the Senate, but he criticized Israel on Fox News:

“They asked Israel – no bigger fan of Israel than Lindsey Graham – for Stingers [anti-aircraft weapons] and apparently Israel said no. So I’m going to get on the phone to Israel – you know, we stand up for Israel with the Iron Dome, and Putin is a thug, he’s a war criminal, he’s destroying a sovereign nation.. And if we don’t get Ukraine right, the Chinese are going to move on Taiwan and the Iranians are going to break out for a bomb so it’s in everybody’s interest.

Haaretz quotes another Republican, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen saying he was “deeply disappointed” with Israel’s failure to join in lockstep with the United States. Cohen:

“Now it comes down to: Are you with the Russians or are you with the United States and the West? They do have to make a decision here.”

Former White House aide Dennis Ross carried the water for Israel’s position at a Jewish People Policy Institute discussion that Haaretz quoted:

Russia “is right next door and they can make it very difficult for Israel to continue to conduct its operations in Syria, which are geared at preventing Hezbollah from putting precision guidance on tens of thousands of rockets,” Ross said, adding that both Russia and the Biden administration have recognized Israel’s freedom of action.

Friction between Israel and the United States did not begin with Russia’s invasion. Last year the Ukrainian government asked the Biden administration to transfer it Patriot and Iron Dome missiles. Since the defense system is a joint Israeli-American project, the sale required buy-in from both countries. Israel axed the deal over concerns that the sale could jeopardize its relationship with Russia.

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