Israel and the Ukrainian Conflict
ZELENSKY CALLS FOR GENERAL MOBILIZATION AS RUSSIAN FORCES ADVANCE: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree on the general mobilization of the population on Thursday night, February 24, in the wake of Russia’s invasion. The decree stated that mobilization is to be carried out within 90 days. He also vowed on Friday to stay in Kyiv as his troops battled Russian invaders who are advancing toward the capital in the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.
The Russian 58th Brigade was held off in the north of Ukraine where battles were being held in the Peremoha regions, while in the south, Ukrainian forces retook a captured bridge near Kherson along the Dnieper river. Moscow captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine on Thursday after Russian troops crossed into the country from Belarus, entering through the Chernobyl nuclear disaster zone, and have now advanced closer to Kyiv, a US defense official said. People working at the power plant were taken hostage. Russian forces have also taken over Zmiinyi Island, a Ukrainian island in the Black Sea, Ukraine’s National Police said late on Thursday. Ukraine forces are still battling to keep hold of the Gosmotel military airport, near capital Kyiv, as two Russian helicopters were shot down by Ukrainian forces during sustained attacks on Gostomel, Ukraine’s Armed Forces said. A Russian Antonov AN-26 military transport aircraft crashed in Russia’s Voronezh region on Thursday night, killing the entire crew, Interfax reported citing military officials. Russian military officials have reportedly said the crash could have been caused by a technical failure. The Ukrainian military added that dozens of Russian armored equipment units were destroyed. A Russian platoon of Russia’s 74th motor rifles brigade has surrendered to Ukrainian forces near Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said prior to the capture of Chernobyl that Ukrainian forces are “giving their lives to prevent the capture of the nuclear disaster zone, as heavy fighting in eastern Ukrainian cities continued after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a “special military operation” in the early hours of Thursday morning. Earlier, four ballistic missiles were launched from the territory of Belarus into Ukraine. The mayor of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv ordered a curfew on Thursday in comments shown on television. Elsewhere, parts of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region were no longer under Kyiv’s control, the regional administration said. In addition, Russian troops have taken over the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station built on the Dnieper River, Ukraine’s energy minister said. The outskirts of Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol came under heavy fire and hundreds of explosions have been observed there, a diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday, as Ukrainian forces battled Russian invaders on three sides. (JPost/ VFI News)
UKRAINIAN EMBASSY SEEKS TO RECRUIT ISRAELIS TO FIGHT RUSSIAN INVASION: The Ukrainian Embassy in Israel on Saturday, February 26, began actively recruiting people in Israel to fight against the Russian military as its country is facing a full-scale invasion.
“The Embassy has begun the formation of lists of volunteers who wish to participate in combat actions against the Russian aggressor,” the embassy wrote in a public Facebook post written in Ukrainian. In the post, the embassy asked those who wish to “participate in the protection of Ukraine from the Russian military aggression” to send an email with their personal information, including any “military specialty” they may have. On Friday, before the Facebook post was published, the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel told journalists that it was legal for Israelis to volunteer for the Ukrainian military. However, Israeli law does have a provision forbidding citizens from joining a foreign military — with a potential punishment of up to three years in prison. This is not applicable if the State of Israel has an agreement with the foreign country in question, though it was not immediately clear if this was the case with Ukraine. Curiously, while it may be illegal for Israelis to volunteer for a foreign military, it is not illegal for a foreign country to recruit people in Israel. The Ukrainian embassy’s post was later deleted from its Facebook page. No explanation was given for the move. (TOI / VFI News)
HOW WAR IN UKRAINE INCREASES IRAN’S THREAT TO ISRAEL: Reports on Thursday morning, February 24, showed Russian attacks across Ukraine, including against key airports and military sites. Air raid sirens were heard in western Ukraine and in Lviv, where some countries, including Israel, have relocated their embassies.
The message that Russia’s unprovoked attack has for the world is clear: other countries can do the same. In the Middle East, Iran understands that the Russian operation gives it a blank check to continue attacking countries throughout the region. This has potential repercussions for Israel. Jerusalem has always behaved as if it will have to face Iran alone, but the conflict in Ukraine is yet another message for the Middle East. While Israel-Iran tensions have gone on for decades, the question is whether the Russian war in Ukraine will open a Pandora’s Box of similar invasions and wars. There is a chance that the war in Ukraine and the US focus on it could lead Iran to believe it can exploit this chaotic time to encourage its proxies to attack Israel. Hezbollah has been threatening Israel and increasingly stockpiling missiles and drones. Tehran could benefit from the Ukraine crisis by either getting a reduction in nuclear sanctions or empowering its proxies. To understand Iran’s current posture is to understand that in many ways, Iran’s attacks on countries in the region foreshadowed Russia’s aggression. Iran has encouraged its proxies and allies in the region to attack countries such as the United Arab Emirates, as well as US forces in Iraq and Israel. Iran openly moves drones and ballistic missiles across borders in the Middle East. This week, Israel alleged that the Islamic Republic was providing drone technology to Venezuela. Iran has armed the Houthis in Yemen and sent advisers to encourage their war against Saudi Arabia. It has also empowered Iraqi militias such as Kataib Hezbollah, which has carried out attacks against Saudi Arabia and the UAE alongside its militia partners in Iraq. In addition, Iran constructed a base near Albukamal in Syria to facilitate the movement of weapons there and to Lebanon, where Iran has helped Hezbollah stockpile masses of missiles. Tehran also backs Hamas, which has recently rolled out new drone and missile threats. Overall, the Iranian posture in the region is one that tests the new world order, which shows that countries that are willing to carry out unprovoked attacks will not suffer consequences. (i365 / VFI News)
ISRAEL WILL VOTE TO CONDEMN RUSSIA: During a government meeting, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) said that Israel intends to vote in favor of condemning Russia for its attack on Ukraine. The resolution in question is expected to be submitted in the coming days and will be brought for a vote in the United Nations General Assembly.
Lapid said that Israel will not remain silent, and will instead take a clear position and choose a side. At the same time, he said that Israel will need to be calculated regarding all of its own interests. During a Foreign Ministry assessment earlier on Sunday, February 27, Lapid instructed that efforts be concentrated on assisting Israelis standing in line at Ukraine’s border crossings, and on sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as per the list of equipment the Ukrainians sent. According to the Foreign Ministry, around 2,000 Israeli citizens have left Ukraine since the fighting started, and the Ukraine-Poland border crossings are very crowded. The Foreign Ministry, therefore, recommends that Israeli citizens trying to flee Ukraine travel to the country’s borders with Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova.
ISRAEL READYING FOR 10,000 IMMIGRANTS FROM UKRAINE IN COMING WEEKS: Israel’s government estimates that around 10,000 Ukrainians will immigrate to Israel in the coming weeks, government officials told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday, February 26.
The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption would not comment on this estimate, but responded, saying: “The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption is prepared for the emergency immigration of Ukrainian Jews, and in view of the escalation in Ukraine, the ministry, headed by Minister Tamano Shata, is preparing all sectors to assist and absorb any Jew seeking to immigrate to Israel.” “In light of the drastic increase in applications for immigration from Ukraine and in view of the security situation in the region”, the ministry said that Tamano-Shata and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman agreed on providing additional budgets to actualize the emergency immigration operation from Ukraine. In the entire year of 2021, a total of 13,006 Jews made Aliyah from Eastern Europe to Israel. Therefore, 10,000 immigrants from Ukraine in one month is substantial and dramatic. As revealed by the Jerusalem Post, Israel offers fleeing Jews from Ukraine free shelter and meals. The Ukrainian Jews will be offered to stay in hotels for a time of two weeks till one month – with possibilities to extend this time further. (JPost / VFI News)
THOUSANDS MARCH FOR UKRAINE IN TEL AVIV: Thousands gathered in Tel Aviv’s HaBima Square and Rothschild Boulevard Saturday, February 26, to protest the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as what they say is Israel’s lackluster response, as the war concluded its third day.
The rally-goers marched toward the Russian embassy building, where police kept them several dozen meters away from the mission. Vyacheslav Feldman, the founder of protest organization Israeli Friends of Ukraine, told The Times of Israel that the demonstration’s first priority was to “stop the war,” and the second was for the Israeli government to take a more active role. “We’re asking the Israeli government to take a clearer step,” he said. “We want Israel to take a side. Humanitarian assistance is nice, but what Ukraine needs is defensive weapons.” As Russia attacks Ukraine, Israel has avoided taking a stance aligned too closely with either side. This is believed to be at least partly due to its need to work with the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria. Israel has expressed concern regarding the invasion and offered humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people, but Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has avoided condemning Russia or even mentioning the country by name in his statements since the launching of the widespread military operation across Russia’s border. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid issued a clearer condemnation of Moscow Thursday, February 24, calling the invasion “a grave violation of the international order.” (TOI / VFI News)
HERE’S HOW THE WAR IN UKRAINE WILL IMPACT THE ISRAELI ECONOMY: The war between Russia and Ukraine stands to have a major effect on the global economy, and there is much discussion of strict sanctions being placed on the aggressing superpower. Meanwhile, the Israeli economy also stands to be affected by the conflict in a variety of ways.
Israel and Ukraine have fostered an import-heavy relationship over the years. In 2020, Israel imported more than $150 million dollars of goods from Ukraine, with a heavy emphasis on food. More than $70m went toward the import of oils, dairy, eggs, and grains. During a visit to Israel earlier this month, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova said that Ukraine was the source of half of the grains imported into Israel. “Cut your bread supply in half to understand how Israel will be affected,” she said. “In case of an escalation, the State of Israel will be directly affected.” Furthermore, Ukraine is responsible for a large portion of construction material imports into Israel. In 2018, Israel imported more than $175m worth of iron and steel. As a result, the Israeli construction industry stands to suffer a blow from the ongoing conflict. A significant chunk of the Start-Up Nation’s labor force is based in Ukraine, as cheaper wages, a lack of time zone-related complications, and exceptional hi-tech talent have led companies to outsource their work to the Eastern European nation. Over the past few weeks, hi-tech companies have scrambled to prepare for war in Ukraine, either by finding redundancies to support themselves in case of a loss of labor power, or by relocating their Ukraine-based teams elsewhere. Gas prices throughout Europe are expected to skyrocket due to Russia’s position as a key source of oil. The price per barrel of oil is currently over $100 for the first time since September 2014. Gasoline prices in Israel were recently raised by NIS 0.34 per liter as of February 1 in response to supply chain complications. This latest development will only add more (increasingly expensive) fuel to the fire. “Oil prices went through the roof. We’re talking about oil prices going to $103 a barrel,” said Dr. Alexander Coman from the Faculty of Management at Tel Aviv University. “This is dramatic, and we will have to pay for it at the gas station, and in the cost of electricity. In Israel, we pay particularly more because 60% of what we pay for gasoline is taxes, so everything is amplified dramatically.” (JPost/ VFI News)
CAN ISRAEL BECOME EUROPE’S GAS SUPPLIER?: Israel could make moves to position itself as a central gas exporter in the Middle East, as tensions surrounding the war in Ukraine have led to a discussion about alternatives to Russia’s gas exports. While it is already supplying gas to Jordan and Egypt, if the right steps are taken, Israel has the potential to become a natural gas source for Europe, as well.
“Europe is completely hysterical that it sits in the hands of Putin,” said Dr. Alexander Coman, from the Faculty of Management at Tel Aviv University. “The idea that Putin is sitting with his hand on the faucet and can, at will, open or close gas supply to Europe – this is a terrible scenario for them.” It is, however, a brilliant opportunity for Israel: in its current position, Europe would do much to find alternative sources to its fuel supply needs. “One of the ways is an alternative pipeline that will bring gas – or perhaps electricity – from Egypt, Israel, and [perhaps] Saudi Arabia to Europe, through Cyprus,” explained Coman. He refers to the EastMed pipeline, a planned project that will directly connect the natural energy resources in the East Mediterranean Sea to greater Europe. In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there may be an opportunity to revisit the EastMed pipeline’s viability, though it could hinge on US willingness to renege its withdrawal, as well as Europe’s progress in renewable energy. In a tweet, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz urged the government to promote the construction of the pipeline. “In this time of dramatic rise in energy prices worldwide, and of severe shortages of natural gas in Europe, it is of immense importance to promote Israel’s ability to export gas directly to Europe through pipelines that cross the Mediterranean,” he said. Germany, which is the largest importer of Russian gas, has announced moves to reduce its dependence on Russia, including the construction of two liquified natural gas terminals. It has also halted the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project, which would effectively double Russia’s export capacity made possible by its predecessor, the Nord Stream pipeline. At present, Israel’s gas supply mainly comes from two primary natural gas fields off the western shore of the country: Tamar, which contains approximately 10.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and Leviathan, which contains 22 trillion cubic feet – enough to last the country for decades at its current level of gas expenditure. This excess has opened up the opportunity to begin exporting gas to neighboring countries such as Jordan and Egypt. Israel began supplying natural gas to the former in 2017 when Jordan signed a $10b 15-year supply deal. Israel has exported gas to Egypt since 2016 and is expected to substantially increase the export amount in 2022. (JPost / VFI News)
The suggestions, opinions and scripture references made by VFI writers and editors are based on the best information received.
Blessings from Jerusalem,
Barry Segal with the Editorial Staff