Bennett Speaks with Putin, Zelensky
BENNETT CONCLUDES MEETING WITH PUTIN, SPEAKS WITH ZELENSKY: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for three hours on Saturday, March 5, in an apparent attempt to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine.
Bennett and Putin discussed the war in Ukraine, including the situation of Israelis and Jewish communities as a result of the conflict, a diplomatic source said. Bennett informed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in advance of the meeting with Putin, and called him before departing Moscow. Bennett also spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron. Bennett flew to Berlin after the meeting with Putin, to have dinner with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The two leaders spoke for an hour, discussing a number of issues including the Russia-Ukraine War. The prime minister has twice spoken with Putin and Zelensky previously, since Russia invaded Ukraine. Zelensky has asked Bennett to try to mediate between the sides, an offer that Putin rebuffed last year, but did not reject last week when Bennett brought it up again. Bennett coordinated his trip to Moscow in advance with the US, France and Germany – all parties to the Iran talks. Bennett spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and may visit Paris after Berlin, KAN reported. Turkey was also updated, as Bennett’s flight route was over its territory. In addition, Putin and Bennett discussed the Iran talks, with the latter emphasizing that Israel opposes a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which is the aim of the negotiations in Vienna. Putin and Bennett agreed to continue the deconfliction mechanism in Syria. Jerusalem coordinates with Moscow before airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria, where the Russian Army is the dominant force. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Jerusalem has been trying to balance the national security importance of coordination with Moscow with Israel’s strongest strategic alliance with the US, and support for democracy and international order. Israel condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and a vote in the UN General Assembly, but Bennett has been reticent to say anything about Russia. In his recent statements, he has expressed support for the Ukrainian people and called for negotiations. The prime minister was the first leader of a democracy to meet with Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine 10 days prior. (JPost / VFI News)
BENNETT FOUND PUTIN TO BE ‘RATIONAL’ DURING MEETING: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly came away from his meeting with Vladimir Putin with the impression that the Russian president was in a rational state of mind, bucking assessments that he may have become unhinged.
Hours after returning, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel had a moral obligation to work to broker peace talks between Russia and Ukraine — even if the likelihood for progress was slim. “I returned from Moscow and Berlin a few hours ago,” Bennett said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, March 6. “I went there to assist the dialogue between all of the sides, of course with the blessing and encouragement of all players.” “We will continue to assist as needed,” Bennett said at the cabinet meeting. “Even if the chance is not great — as soon as there is even a small opening, and we have access to all sides and the capability — I see this as our moral obligation to make every effort.” Bennett was being cautious with Putin, due to the Russian leader “not being interested in a ceasefire or humanitarian corridors.” American officials are worried Putin is using Bennett in order to regain international legitimacy. However, sources close to Bennett said that the US encouraged him to meet Putin, seeking to take advantage of Israel’s good relations with both sides to end the fighting. Bennett reportedly spoke with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Friday, March 4, ahead of the meeting, and received the go-ahead. Putin made it clear to Bennett that he is unwilling to end hostilities until Ukraine demilitarizes, saying that Moscow’s position is: “until there is dialogue, hostilities [will continue].” Russia conveyed to Israel via diplomatic channels that it is deliberately not targeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, even though it knows where he is, reportedly with the aim of capturing him alive. (TOI / VFI News)
IRAN ADJUSTING STANCE AFTER RUSSIA’S NEW DEMANDS AT NUCLEAR TALKS: A top Iranian official said Monday, March 7, that his country is seeking “creative ways” to restore its nuclear deal with world powers after Russia’s foreign minister linked sanctions on Moscow over its war on Ukraine to the ongoing negotiations.
The tweet by Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council, offers the first high-level acknowledgment of the demands of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “Vienna participants act & react based on interests and it’s understandable,” Shamkhani wrote. “Our interactions … are also solely driven by our people’s interests. Thus, we’re assessing new elements that bear on the negotiations and will accordingly seek creative ways to expedite a solution.” In recent days, negotiators on all sides in Vienna had signaled that a potential deal was close as the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agreed to a timetable with Iran for it to disclose answers to long-standing questions it had about Tehran’s program. But Lavrov on Saturday, March 5, said he wanted “guarantees at least at the level of the secretary of state” that the US sanctions would not affect Moscow’s relationship with Tehran. That threw into question the months of negotiations held so far on restoring the Trump-killed 2015 deal, which saw Iran agree to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. “Getting out of the deal was one of the worst mistakes that’s been made in recent years. It let the entire Iranian nuclear program that we put in a box out of the box,” Blinken said of Trump’s decision. “And so if there’s a way of getting back to reimplementing that deal effectively, it’s in our interest to do it and we’re working on that as we speak. It’s also in Russia’s interest.” (TOI / VFI News)
AS IRANIAN DRONE THREAT INCREASES, ISRAELI F-35S DOWN TWO: Two Iranian Shahed 197 drones heading toward Israel were downed by Israeli F-35 fighter jets last year far beyond the country’s airspace and less than half an hour after they had been identified.
One drone, flying toward Israel from the South, was spotted at around 1:44 AM and was shot down at 2:19 AM. The second one, which was flying in from the East, was identified at 1:46 AM and downed at 2:16 AM. The F-35s were from the 140th Golden Eagle Squadron and 116th Lions of the South Squadron. Though the IDF was unable to say where the drones were launched from, “The UAVs were detected and tracked throughout their flight by ground control units.” “The interceptions of the UAVs were carried out prior to them entering Israeli airspace, in coordination with neighboring countries,” the military said, without naming the countries due to security concerns. The drones that were ferrying weapons to Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip were downed in March 2021 by missiles fired by the stealth jets, making it the first time that the aircraft downed unmanned aerial systems (UAS) anywhere in the world. Israeli officials estimate that Iran was attempting to test whether military equipment could be smuggled to Gaza via drone and if successful more significant weapons could be smuggled in a similar way in the future. The timing of the announcement late on Sunday night, March 6, was unclear but comes as Israel warns that Iran has been increasingly aggressive in the region while it is continuing to negotiate with Western countries about its nuclear program in Vienna. (JPost / VFI News)
INSIDE THE JEWISH RESPONSE TO THE MOUNTING UKRAINIAN REFUGEE CRISIS IN POLAND: A growing number of Jewish individuals and organizations have been propelled into action by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal attack on Ukraine. With the exception of the Jewish Agency’s emergency fast-tracking of applications for immigration to Israel, which is available only to Jews, most of the help is given regardless of religion. According to the United Nations, 1 to 3 million Ukrainians are likely to leave their country in the coming weeks. Many are coming through Poland.
And Poles, including Jews, are rising to the occasion. Student Kamilla Czesnyk was at a meeting of Limmud Europe, a Jewish learning initiative, in Gdansk when the war broke out. She quickly switched gears to help organize donated medications — like heparin and morphine — for soldiers in Ukraine. “We really need a good doctor who understands the situation,” said Czesnyk. Also at Limmud, Natalia Czakowska took a midnight phone call and ended up sheltering a Ukrainian woman in her Warsaw apartment for the night. Czakowska has also heard that “people are crossing the Ukrainian border to rescue pets that were abandoned … Maybe the people did not know they could bring their pets.” Aldona Zawada, an employee of the American Jewish Committee of Central Europe, invited her parents to move in with her so their apartment could be used by refugees. They took in a family that had traveled for three days and then waited in a line at the border for 23 hours. The Jewish Agency has doubled down its efforts to bring out Jews who had already started the process of emigration to Israel before the war. Warsaw is one of the hubs where Jews are waiting to fly out; the first Ukrainian immigrants are expected to arrive in Israel on Sunday, March 6. About 300 Ukrainians are expected on three flights from Warsaw, Moldova and Romania, according to the Jewish Agency. A third of them are orphans who were evacuated to Romania under the supervision of Chabad, which ran their Ukrainian orphanage. That’s a tiny fraction of the Jews who have fled Ukraine over the last week, as part of an abrupt migration of 1 million Ukrainians. To meet their needs, a handful of independent Jewish groups joined forces to create a crisis management center at Warsaw’s Jewish Community Center. The crisis center, upstairs in the Warsaw Jewish Community Center, has about 30 volunteers so far, Dorosz said. They are taking calls, organizing sleeping bags and food, medical help and counseling, driving to the border and offering transportation westward, and bringing food to refugees in hotels. (TOI / VFI News)
ISRAEL TO CAP NUMBER OF NON-ELIGIBLE UKRAINIAN REFUGEES IT ACCEPTS: Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Monday, March 7, that Israel will place a cap on the number of Ukrainian refugees allowed in who are not eligible to immigrate to the Jewish state — but did not indicate what that figure would be.
“We will approve some sort of humanitarian cap on people who are not eligible under the Law of Return,” Shaked said to Kan public radio on Monday morning. “In the coming days, I will formulate an organized policy, because we have to get this situation in order.” Shaked declined to specify the number of Ukrainian refugees who are not eligible to become citizens that Israel will be willing to accept. She is thought to favor placing the cap on entry as low as possible, while Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reportedly wants Israel to accept a greater number. The Population and Immigration Authority said Monday morning that since the February 24 outbreak of war, 2,792 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in Israel; 129 of them were denied entry for unspecified reasons. Throughout the month of February, 3,226 Ukrainians landed in Israel; 248 of them were denied entry and 2,134 exited, the authority said. Under the Law of Return, anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent is eligible to become an Israeli citizen. Shaked claimed that only around 10% of those who have entered Israel since the war began are eligible for citizenship. The minister said that Israel’s primary goal is to absorb fleeing Jews and others who can become citizens, as opposed to all refugees. “Israel has a huge challenge to absorb those who are eligible under the Law of Return,” she said. “We expect tens of thousands, we could reach hundreds of thousands if a large number come from Russia and other former Soviet nations. That’s our central mission.” (TOI / VFI News)
2,000 ISRAELIS STRANDED IN UKRAINE: During a situational assessment held last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation and a division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to continue with four main relief efforts:
– A field hospital to be established in the coming days in Ukraine in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Chaim Sheba Medical Center, and Clalit Health Services. – The ongoing transfer of humanitarian aid according to the needs of Ukrainian authorities and the surrounding countries. – The transfer of 6 giant generators to Lviv Hospital that will allow for its continuous operation even without its regular power supply. – Assistance centers for refugees (Jews and non-Jews alike) at border crossings where Ministry of Foreign Affairs personnel are stationed, with an emphasis on providing winter gear. During the situational assessment, the Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director-General for Consular Affairs, Eyal Siso, presented data on the departure of Israeli citizens from Ukraine. According to the Consular Division, in the three weeks since the travel warning was issued, about 10,200 Israeli citizens have left the country, of whom about 5,700 have left since the outbreak of hostilities. According to Foreign Ministry estimates, there are approximately 2,000 Israeli citizens remaining in Ukraine. (INN / VFI News)
AUSTRALIA OFFICIALLY LISTS ALL OF HAMAS AS A TERRORIST GROUP: Australia on Friday, March 4, listed the entire Palestinian Islamist group Hamas as a terrorist organization, calling the move a deterrent to political and religious violence and bringing Australia in line with the United States, the European Union and Britain.
Australia had for two decades proscribed Hamas’s paramilitary wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as a terrorist organization but flagged last month that it wanted to upgrade the listing to the whole organization, a process that involved consulting Australia’s state and territory leaders. The change puts Australia into lockstep with its allies, which have also been moving to tighten their opposition to the Gaza ruling body, citing its access to sophisticated weaponry and terrorist training facilities. “The hateful ideologies of terrorist groups and those who support them have no place in Australia,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in a statement. “Our strong laws target not only terrorist acts and terrorists, but also the organizations that plan, finance and carry out these abhorrent acts,” she added. Listing organizations was a deterrent to violent extremism and sent a message that Australia condemned the use of violence to achieve political, religious or ideological aims, she added. Proscribing an organization in Australia makes it illegal to give it funds, support or services. (JPost / VFI News)
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Blessings from Jerusalem,
Barry Segal with the Editorial Staff