JERUSALEM – Though not originally on the agenda, Israeli media sources reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama spent part of their two-hour meeting on Monday discussing the ramifications of the growing crisis in Ukraine as it pertains to U.S. Middle East policy. The fate of Ukrainian Jews, in light of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, was also discussed.
Israeli political observers have speculated that Obama’s response to the Russian move, which many describe as weak, will eventually have stark consequences for Israel. Though Israel currently maintains a cordial relationship with Moscow, it is thought that Russia’s deepening support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hizbullah could embolden both to attack Israel on the Golan Heights and from Lebanon.
Despite Obama’s threat of military force against Assad unless he relinquishes his chemical weapons cache, Assad has repeatedly failed to meet UN deadlines to deliver his deadly arsenal to a special arms disposal unit. Russia, which has stationed naval forces in the Syrian port city of Latakia, has thus far refused to prod Assad into handing over his chemical weapons. Russia has also reinforced the Syrian military with large supplies of homegrown sophisticated battlefield weapons. Assad has repeatedly tried to transfer some of those arms to Hizbullah.
The Israeli Air Force has attacked Hizbullah convoys, which have tried to ship the weapons to their bases in Lebanon. A further deterioration in the relationship between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin could spur the Russian leader to increase military aid to Assad by way of even more advanced weaponry.
Sources report that Netanyahu told Obama that Putin’s gambits might also embolden Iran, Russia’s ally, to defy any Western attempt to downsize Tehran’s extensive nuclear program. Netanyahu also reportedly reminded Obama that American diplomatic missteps toward the current regime in Egypt during its overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood led Egypt to sign a new arms agreement with Moscow.
Jewish Press columnist Michael Freund, a former communications adviser to Netanyahu, said the current tension in Ukraine does not bode well for Ukrainian Jewry.
Freund told The Jewish Press, “The dramatic events of the past few days only underline the dangers facing Ukrainian Jewry. With Russia and the Ukraine edging closer to the brink of war, it is essential that Israel act quickly to bring Ukrainian Jewry home as soon as possible. As nationalist passions are inflamed in the Ukraine, it is inevitable that anger and hatred will turn against the Jews…”
Freund, founder of the Shavei Israel organization that assists lost Jews in resurrecting their lost heritage, said that his group is “working in the Ukraine and Russia with the Subbotnik Jews. The primary community of Subbotnik Jews that we at Shavei Israel are working with is in the village of Vysoky, which is near the Russian-Ukrainian border. There are several hundred people in the village, all of whom want to make aliyah, but there are various bureaucratic obstacles to overcome.” Freund expressed hope “that the community can soon come to Israel.”