A ‘hysterical anti-Russian campaign’
Britain let Israel know that it was not pleased. The British Embassy in Tel Aviv released a statement saying that it expects “strong statements of support from all our close partners, Israel included.” Moscow praised Israel for not being drawn into what it said was a “hysterical anti-Russian campaign” following the poisoning.
Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs told World Israel News (WIN) that “Israel faces an existential threat just over the border in Syria, where Russia has a military presence and where Iran has established bases. Russia is playing a very important role, including turning a blind eye when Israel takes military action in Syria. Keeping good relations with Russia is a priority. Israel is among the smallest sovereign states in the world. We face threats on all sides. Our defense and foreign policy doctrine is to defend ourselves by ourselves, and that comes before all else.”
Veteran Middle East analyst Amotz Asa-el told WIN, “Basically Israel is trying to be neutral in this unfolding of ‘Cold War 2.’ We saw this Israeli inclination in the Russian annexation of Crimea and the clashes in Ukraine. Israel broke rank and did not condemn Russia or order sanctions. The rational is that we have a lot of Jews in Russia and a lot of Russian speakers here in Israel. Add to that the fact that Putin has fighter jets in Syria and we don’t want to mess around. Putin has been OK with Israel, and we have had good relations for the past 25 years with the breakup of Communism and the Soviet Union. Israel has to pay a price for the rapprochement.”
Government, opposition agree on approach to Russia
Asa-el notes that Israel’s coalition and opposition are united in the policy toward Russia. “Clearly, there is across-the-board support for avoiding tension with Russia. It’s not pleasant for us, but by now the US does not expect us to act differently. They know that we have the Russian air force on our border… We are neutral like Finland during the cold war. They knew that Russia can be a nasty neighbor and chose to stay out of line of fire,” he explained.
“Britain is our friend but we are not bound by Nato or European Union membership,” veteran Israeli Ambassador Avi Pazner told WIN. “We have good ties with Russia, but we also have to be careful with them. Their military presence in Syria cannot be ignored. They close an eye and do not object when we find a need to strike in Syria. We face the danger of Iran, and down the road, we will need Russian help to keep the Iranians in check.”