The Obama administration has been sending Jerusalem irritable complaints for more than a month about Israel’s neutral posture on the Ukraine issue between Washington and Moscow. This is not the attitude the US has come to expect from its senior Middle East ally.
However, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opted for this position after careful thought, shortly before Russian forces were reported to have invaded Crimea, and after exhaustive secret consultations with Israel’s intelligence chiefs, including the Mossad’s Tamir Pardo, and senior diplomats experienced in dealing with Moscow.
Those consultations took place in the third week of February.
One piece of information revealed to him then was that the Russian army had invaded and seized the Crimean Peninsula on February 20, i.e., 10 days before the event’s official date. This was subsequently confirmed by the Russian Defense Ministry’s award of the Crimean Peninsula Medal to all those who took part in the Russian military operation.
The date on that medal is February 20.
Most of meeting’s participants urged the government to keep Israel out of US-Russian rivalry over Ukraine and refrain from taking sides.
Netanyahu hopes Putin will be receptive to Israel on Iran and Syria
As the Obama administration distances itself from the Middle East, Russia is drawing closer, filling the void with growing stature and influence.
Israel decided therefore it was necessary to take Moscow into account in its policy-making – especially in the hope that President Vladimir Putin continues to be approachable on matters of supreme security import for Israel, such as Iran’s nuclear program and the flow of Russian arms to Bashar Assad’s army.
Netanyahu told the meeting that through his personal rapport with Putin, whom he called a friend, he obtained his consent to withhold the advanced S-300 anti-tank missiles from Iran and Syria. “Putin is a man of his word who keeps his promises,” he said.
He hoped that the Russian leader would be equally receptive to Israeli requests for restrictions on the quantities and types of advanced weaponry Russia supplies to Syria – and thence to the Lebanese Hizballah.
In Netanyahu’s view, Israel has nothing to gain in diplomatic terms from publicly castigating the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine, as Washington expects it to do.
He was sure that Israel’s friendship with America would survive, irrespective of its row with Russia. Israel had no need to make the sacrifice of antagonizing Moscow at the expense of its own national security interests.
Israel applies neutrality to intelligence-sharing on Ukraine
A month after this decision was reached in Jerusalem, Israel found a pretext for absenting itself from the US-led vote against Russia at the UN Assembly on March 28.
The non-binding resolution, which passed by a 100-11 vote with 58 abstentions, called on member states “to desist and refrain from actions aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including any attempts to modify Ukraine’s borders through the threat or use of force or other unlawful means.”
The Crimean referendum confirming the peninsula’s annexation to Russia was declared invalid.
Canada and Poland, which maintain strong ties with Israel, were among the nations which supported the resolution.
DEBKA Weekly's intelligence sources add that Israel’s policy of neutrality on Ukraine is also applied to cooperation with US intelligence agencies. Israel’s undercover services are well-established in Ukraine – their mission primarily to preclude the sale of advanced weaponry by Ukrainian army officers and arms dealers to hostile Middle East parties. Those agents have good ties with some of Ukraine’s oligarchs who let drop reliable information on events in Kiev and other Ukraine cities.
US-Israel intel partnership goes back 60 years
Those agencies are now under orders from the prime minister to maintain an “intelligence blackout” – a term they use for putting on ice sensitive matters and making them accessible to no one aside from the prime minister.
This non-cooperation has drawn several complaints from Washington, on the grounds that highly sensitive and controversial episodes have never in the past impaired intelligence-sharing between the US and Israel and there is no reason why Israel should start being cagey about the information it gathers in Ukraine.
Israel replied that the interchange of intelligence on weapons and terrorist movements continues as usual, leaving out only input that would place the country in the middle of the US dispute with Russia.
This attitude is a completely new ball-game in the long history of US-Israeli intelligence relations.
In the early 1950s, the heads of Israel’s fledgling clandestine services went to Washington to place all their assets in the Soviet Union and European satellites at the US disposal for the effort to win the Cold War.
This undercover partnership, details of which still a closed guarded secret in Washington and Jerusalem, became the bedrock for the close cooperation between their spy agencies in the decades which followed and up until the present day.
Israel feels Obama isn’t coming clean on Iran’s nuclear secrets
Yet in the case of Ukraine, Netanyahu decided to partially break with this cherished tradition for three reasons:
1. He is getting back at the Obama administration for blocking Israel’s access to certain pieces of information on the Iranian nuclear program – a departure from the intelligence-sharing that was promised in the course of the world powers’ nuclear negotiations with Tehran.
2. He has information confirming that certain fascist factions from the Baltic participate in the provisional Kiev regime. Israel wants no part in maintaining these unsavory elements in power.
3. In a long telephone conversation with Putin on April 16, Netanyahu gave his word that Israel’s Ukraine policy would not change.
The communiqués issued later in Moscow and Jerusalem disclosed that the Israeli prime minister had requested – and received – the Russian president’s evaluation of the Ukraine crisis. The two leaders also discussed Iran at length.
It has been a long time since Obama has held a phone conversation of comparable length and breadth with Netanyahu.