Six short takeaways for Israel from the war in Ukraine

April 4, 2022 by Robert Gregory
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The geopolitical situation in Ukraine is vastly different to Israel, however, there are several lessons that have wider applications.

Robert Gregory

Here are six key takeaways from the war in Ukraine for Israel and Jews worldwide.

  1. A piece of paper is no guarantee of security

In 1994, after the fall of communism, President Bill Clinton triumphantly announced that Ukraine would give up the nuclear weapons it had acquired from the USSR.

In exchange, the USA, Britain, and Russia committed to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.” They also pledged to refrain from the threat or use of force. Turn on the news and you can see how that turned out.

This lesson is especially pertinent to Israel. Western leaders time and again call for Israel to take ‘brave risks for peace’. The inference is that if the Palestinian Arabs are given a state and it becomes hostile, the West could step in. A guarantee is often worth no more than the paper it is written on. Israel learnt this the hard way, and Israelis will not easily forget the image of UN peacekeepers fleeing Sinai as Egypt prepared war on Israel.

Putting aside the deep Jewish historical connection to our homeland, for security reasons alone, Israel must never part with its heartland, Judea and Samaria (West Bank).

  1. Israel must never compromise its nuclear deterrence – Ukraine gave up theirs

Without a doubt, had Ukraine not given up the 1700 nuclear weapons it once possessed, it wouldn’t be in this terrible predicament.

For a nation to properly defend itself, it needs offensive capabilities. If Ukraine had several hundred missiles capable of striking Moscow and St Petersburg, would Russia have risked invading?

Israel must never be tempted to give up its undeclared nuclear capacity and must maintain its development of advanced offensive weapons capable of striking threats anywhere in the world.

  1. Nuclear Iran is not an option

The Western countries promise that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons. These same countries declared that North Korea would never acquire nuclear weapons. While these are merely laudable goals for the West, the situation is existential for the Jewish people. Failure might be acceptable in DC or London, but isn’t an option for Israel.

Ironically, a serious, sustained sanctions regime like Russia is facing, would likely have ended Iran’s nuclear weapons program long ago. Unfortunately, the West along with virtue-signalling multinationals don’t see stopping a nuclear Iran as a priority.

Instead, President Biden and the Europeans chose to humour the Ayatollahs with negotiations and concessions. A year later, they have nothing to show. Iran does though. It has rapidly advanced its nuclear program. Israel doesn’t have the luxury of testing whether the Ayatollahs are serious about erasing it from the map.

In the face of a radical Islamic regime that wants to annihilate Israel, no assurance from the West will suffice. As soon as it determines itself capable, Israel must strike Iran’s nuclear sites to ensure the existential danger is removed.

Israel’s past strikes on the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs resulted in the usual hysterical squealing in Western Capitals. A strike on Iran will also. Western squeals over a destroyed Iranian nuke program are preferable to the alternative, half-hearted commiserations over a destroyed Israel.

  1. When push comes to shove, Israel must fight alone

In the lead up to the Russian invasion, Western leaders made many powerful statements. They issued firm demands to Russia and made promises to Ukraine. Western leaders had many months of warning, with intelligence agencies well aware of the threat.

But at the end of the day, it’s the Ukrainian people left to fight the Russian invasion alone. While it’s no doubt touching for the Ukrainian people to see the Opera House and Eiffel Tower lit up in the colours of their flag, the lesson is not lost on Israel.

Israel too has many friends across the world who would issue supportive statements in the face of war. Israel has never asked any other country to fight for it. All Israel needs is for them to stay out of the way.

When it comes down to it, Israel knows that it will fight alone, and it must prepare accordingly.

  1. The world respects strength

To a West that assumed Ukraine would fall long ago, the persistence and courage of the Ukrainian defenders came as a shock. While themselves not willing to fight, almost every Western nation, including neutral Sweden and Finland has now joined the fight by sending weapons.

The world respects those who fight and win.

Israel, tiny in size and population compared to Ukraine, first learnt this lesson in the 6-day war when its plucky courage and determination earned worldwide respect.

  1. This isn’t about the Jews

Both sides have attempted to drag Israel into the war. Likewise, the usual anti-Israel haters have attempted to make it all about Israel.

Israel is in a difficult position. While very much in line with Western consensus and sympathetic to the plight of Ukrainian civilians, it must weigh up several responsibilities.

Countries like Australia can withdraw their diplomats to safety, but Israel has responsibility for the safety of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Russia and Ukraine.

Crucially, thanks to Barack Obama’s unenforced ‘Red Lines’ in Syria, Israel effectively shares a border with the Russian military. Israeli pilots conduct sorties over Russian controlled skies. This situation, caused largely by Western weakness, means that just as NATO won’t risk their pilots over Russian airspace, neither will Israeli pilots be put at risk of being shot out of the air.

While Israel walks a tightrope, that’s not to say it hasn’t been contributing disproportionately. The 100 tonnes of aid that took 3 planes to transport is reportedly Israel’s largest ever humanitarian contribution.

An estimated 100 thousand Jewish immigrants fleeing the Ukraine crisis will be welcomed to Israel with open arms. 10 thousand have already arrived. In addition, Israel is hosting 25 thousand Ukrainian non-Jews. Israel is likely to be the largest per capita recipient of Ukrainian refugees of any country not sharing a border with Ukraine.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet is mediating between Ukraine and Russia. A religiously observant Jew, Bennet even flew to meet Putin on Shabbat. His efforts have at times been greeted coldly by Ukraine. Wherever possible, Israel challenges Russia, such as co-sponsoring the UN General Assembly condemnation of Russia.

Anyone who works for a Jewish organisation can attest to the pressure to make every issue a Jewish issue. From climate change to Covid vaccines, those on both sides will try to twist the facts to justify the ‘Jewish’ perspective. The war in Ukraine is no exception.

Since Judaism is an ancient faith full of wisdom, there’s bound to be evidence and sources to support almost all assertions. What we mustn’t do, is allow either side to make this war about the Jews. Israel and the international Jewish community have adopted a leadership role, provided record aid, built a field hospital, held prayers and rallies, and welcomed refugees.

Of course, the real lesson and the elephant in the room is that none of this would have happened under Trump. The international geopolitical situation has changed rapidly and dramatically since Biden’s election. Israel must adapt accordingly.


Robert Gregory is the Director of Public Affairs of the Australian Jewish Association


One Response to “Six short takeaways for Israel from the war in Ukraine”
  1. Mark Feiglin says:

    All of your six points, spot on.

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