Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday morning condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, declaring during a press briefing: “The Russian attack on Ukraine is a serious violation of the international order. Israel condemns the attack, and is ready and prepared to provide humanitarian assistance to the citizens of Ukraine. Israel is a country that has experienced wars, and war is not the way to resolve conflicts.”
Lapid added: “The first hours and days of any war are also the last time you can still stop and return to the negotiating table, mediated by world powers, to settle disputes peacefully.”
On Monday, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman told 103FM that Israel should not comment on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. “I believe this is not our business,” the Kishinev, Moldova-born Liberman said. “There’s an involvement of all the powers there, let us not exaggerate our self-importance. The smartest thing we can do is keep the lowest profile.”
Israel’s highest priority is dealing with its neighbor to the north, Syria, which is protected by Israel’s neighbor to the north – Russia. Israel has attacked twice inside Syria, on Wednesday and Thursday, presumably to destroy newly-provided Iranian weapons and equipment. The Russians could quash Israel’s efforts to stop these shipments north of its border. It remains to be seen how the Russian garrison in Syria will react to the next Israeli bombing.
“Israel has deep, long-lasting, and good relations with Russia and with Ukraine,” Lapid said on Thursday. “There are tens of thousands of Israelis in both countries, and there are hundreds of thousands of Jews in both countries. Maintaining their security and safety is at the top of our considerations.”
Perhaps. But it’s far more likely that maintaining the security and safety of the Jews who live in Israel takes precedence, which is why poking the bear may not have been such a smart idea.
Thursday evening, Bennett is expected to hold a discussion at the defense ministry’s headquarters in the Kirya, Tel Aviv, with Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and other senior officials. On Wednesday, on the eve of the Russian invasion, Israel’s foreign ministry issued its first statement clarifying its political position regarding the situation by calling for the preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity but refraining from condemning or even mentioning Russia. Was there American or European pressure on Lapid to condemn Putin? Possibly. But the move was not wise. Listen to Liberman.
On Thursday morning, the foreign minister also covered more practical issues, saying that “we must maintain the security and safety of Foreign Ministry personnel, Nativ (the National Center for Jewish Studies, Identity, and Conversion) personnel, and Jewish Agency personnel located in Ukraine. At this time, they are risking their lives to continue to provide assistance and help to every Israeli and every Jew.”
“Earlier this week, I ordered the evacuation of our Embassy in Kiev, and moving it to offices in the city of Lvov, near the Polish border,” Lapid said. “I call on every Israeli citizen to leave Ukraine to go there as long as the roads are open. Currently, Ukraine’s airspace is closed and there is no train traffic. Consular representatives from the Foreign Ministry have already been stationed at all border crossings near Lvov to help Israelis leave.”
He added: “The border crossings where our people are stationed are the Medyka crossing on the Polish border, the Vysne Nemescke crossing on the Slovak border, the Zahony crossing to Hungary, and the Siret crossing to Romania. Later, we will announce the relevant crossing to Moldova. We coordinated in advance with all these countries—Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova/the safe and smooth exit of Israelis. I thank those governments for their assistance and goodwill.”
Finally: Citizens who need assistance or guidance can contact the Foreign Ministry situation room at 972-2-52303155.