In Israel, 73-year-old Benjamin Netanyahu is returning as the prime minister after the November 1 election. According to the final vote count, the bloc that includes his party Likud won 64 seats in parliament.
This was the fifth election in Israel during a 3.5-year-long political crisis in the country. Earlier, Netanyahu had been running the country країною from 1996 to 1999 and from 2009 to 2021, when he was ousted for alleged corruption, which the politician and his backers deny.
Putin’s friend and the Israel—Russia—Iran triangle
An important detail is that Netanyahu is known for his close relationship with Vladimir Putin and his numerous visits to Russia. He even attended the "Immortal Regiment" demonstration with the Russian president in 2018.
However, before the latest election, the Israeli politician said he would consider supplying weapons, at least defensive ones, to Ukraine and that he was willing to be a mediator between Ukraine and Russia.
Today, Israel receives Ukrainian service members for medical treatment and provides only non-lethal military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
The course of Israel’s foreign policy could seriously change in favor of Ukraine if the conflict between Israel and Iran escalates as a result of Tehran’s aggressive actions or if Russia liquidates the Jewish Agency, which facilitates Jewish repatriation from Russia.
On the other hand, Netanyahu, who will prioritize Israel's interests, may show more support for Kyiv due to his pragmatism and desire to be recognized as a prominent peacemaker.
Will Israel get closer to Russia because of Netanyahu’s return?
I can’t see any risks of Israel getting closer to Russia after Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power for the simple reason that he is a very experienced politician who understands how much the international situation and the global balance changed during the year 2022 when he was in opposition.
Netanyahu understands that Putin and Russia have become pariahs in global politics, and therefore there’s no sense or benefit for Israel in rapprochement with this country.
How close is the relationship between Netanyahu and Putin?
During 10–12 years of communication and regular contacts with Putin, Netanyahu developed quite a close and confidential relationship with the Russian president. However, they are based primarily on the interests and safety of Israel.
That is, the goal of Netanyahu's numerous visits and meetings with Putin — specifically, his 13 or even 15 visits to Moscow and Sochi over the years — was first and foremost to coordinate the operations of the Israeli army and Russian military forces deployed in Syria.
The purpose of these contacts was to ensure that Israel’s airstrikes on Iranian depots and convoys carrying weapons Iran has been providing to terrorists through Syrian territory weren’t impeded by Russian air defense, which is also located in Syria.
That’s why I emphasize once again that what they describe as some special friendship between Netanyahu and Putin was first and foremost pursuing the safety of Israel, a sober and highly pragmatic calculation to uphold the interests of Israel.
Can Israel act as an intermediary between Ukraine and Russia?
Netanyahu claimed before the November 1 election in Israel that he was willing to become a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, provided that both countries consent to and have an interest in such mediation.
That is, Bibi, as we call him in Israel, sees himself as an influential figure in international relations and a person who is trusted and respected both in Moscow and Kyiv.
Looking at the world map, I believe we can find no other leader of this magnitude who would have equally normal relationships with both belligerent countries while keeping a substantially neutral stance in their confrontation.
Why does Netanyahu want to be a mediator between Russia and Ukraine?
Netanyahu is now forming his sixth cabinet after having served as head of government for a total of 12 years, a record in Israel’s history. The 73-year-old Netanyahu, albeit in excellent shape, is already in that part of his life path where he thinks about what legacy he leaves behind in history and global politics.
I can’t rule out that, as a good chess player — and he’s a really good one — he looks far ahead and suggests that he could become a mediator in this war between Russia and Ukraine and go down in world’s history as a person who stopped such a tremendous war in Europe.
This could have been calculated by him too — as far as receiving the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize. I won’t rule this out as well if Netanyahu takes on interfering in the Russia—Ukraine war as a mediator at all.
Can Netanyahu reconsider his relationship with Putin and support Ukraine?
Throughout the year 2022, Israeli military experts have been able to see exactly what the Russian army is. I’ve heard experts say: We overestimated Russia’s power and capabilities, and if this is all the Russian army can demonstrate, who did we fear so much in Syria, across Israel’s northern border?
I’m sure that all these estimations will be put on Netanyahu’s table, he’ll analyze them, and he will at least consider the possibility of supplying some defensive weapons or military technologies to Ukraine.
The primary reason is that Iranian drones bomb your cities, and this danger can possibly threaten Israeli cities as well if Iran attacks our country with these drones. That’s why Bibi will weigh all this, and the decision will be up to him.
What should Ukraine expect of Israel in the coming months?
I think that in the first period of his new tenure, Netanyahu will be much more concerned with domestic politics and Israel’s problems that have piled up.
He won’t care much about foreign policy and global problems. Given this, I don’t think there will be rapid and dramatic shifts in Israel’s policy regarding Russia and Ukraine.
Perhaps there will be some gradual actions at the microlevel. It remains to be seen who becomes defense minister and foreign minister, but foreign policy is within the competence of the prime minister, who thinks of himself as the world’s ace in foreign policy.
What could have changed Netanyahu’s attitude toward Ukraine?
The key figure who influenced Netanyahu’s views on Ukraine in recent months and weeks was the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Moshe Azman.
He met with Netanyahu before the election at least three times to tell him in detail about Ukraine’s problems and stress that Israel could and should step up its support of Ukraine. Rabbi Azman and Prime Minister Netanyahu have a long history of friendship and have known each other for many years.
I think those announcements Netanyahu made before the election that he would consider military supplies to Ukraine after coming to power, as well as his words that good news awaits Ukraine after he returns to the PM’s cabinet, were also influenced by the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine.