May 25, 2024
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Invasion of Ukraine Places Israel In Precarious Situation

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has produced shockwaves around the world and elicited near universal condemnation.

Israel has joined the legion of democratic nations criticizing the incursion, even though it places the country in a difficult position because of an understanding with Russia, which has allowed Israeli strikes against Hezbollah in Syria despite Russia having its own military installations in the Arab country.

“Because of Ukraine, the challenges Israel is going to face in 2022 could be enormous,” said Eric R. Mandel, founder and director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network). “Israel has had to deal very closely with Russia in coordinating missile strikes in Syria.”

This made Israel hesitant about initially criticizing the invasion, “although now, of course, like all democratic nations,” Israel has condemned Russia’s action, Mandel told The Jewish Link in a phone conversation in advance of his virtual FEDTalks programs for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey on March 10 and April 7.

The first program will focus on whether Israel will preemptively strike Iran, if there will be a war with Hamas or Hezbollah, and why antisemitism is rising. The second will discuss whether the United States still has security interests in the Middle East, if the international community still cares about the Middle East and how China is affecting the U.S.-Israel relationship. And although it wasn’t an issue when the program’s content was set, how Russia and its presence in the Middle East has produced a dangerous dilemma for Israel. Russia is also allied with Israel’s archenemy Iran, which has blamed NATO for Russia’s incursion into Ukraine and is behind the terrorist group Hezbollah.

Mandel’s private organization has analyses that are read by members of Congress and their staffs as well as members of the Knesset and their foreign policy advisers, and he has met with both congressional members and Israeli leadership. He is also the northeast co-chair of the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which as fought the BDS campaign against Israel.

“Russia has 400 anti-aircraft missiles, which is a very sophisticated system, in Syria to knock down Israeli jets and missiles,” said Mandel. “Yet at this point in time Israel enters Syria almost without Soviet interference.”

Complicating the matter further is the American withdrawal from the Middle East, which Mandel said has given the Russians the advantage in the region.

The Russians, despite the genocidal war waged by Syrian leader Bashar Assad that has killed hundreds of thousands, sided with him establishing a naval and air base in the country. While that would seem to indicate that Russia has aligned with Iran against Israel, the situation is far more complicated than would appear on the surface, according to Mandel.

So is Russia aligned with Iran?

“The answer is both yes and no,” said Mandel, adding that Russia sees America as having been weakened in recent years. Russia views Iran, which supported Assad, as a destabilizing threat in the Middle East. Beyond that, it also knows “Israel will attack no matter what” if threatened.

Russian President Vladimir Putin saw that weak leaders did little to stop his invasion in Georgia and Crimea, encouraging him to attack Ukraine. “You can play nice and have appeasement,” said Mandel. “That works between two democracies. That doesn’t work between Russia and America and Iran and America and China and America.”

Mandel issued a dire warning about the dangers of not taking a forceful stand against Putin.

“If we give up and appease Russia, they will go after the Baltic states,” he said. “My feeling is weakness only breeds war; and strength, if you are willing to use it, gives you a better chance at peace.”

The idea of dealing from a position of strength also applies to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran as negotiations progress toward its reinstatement. If approved, the deal would lift sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities, which would lengthen the time it needs to make enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb.

“The West is begging Iran to go back to the Iranian nuclear deal,” said Mandel. “It seems like it’s going to happen, which would be terrible for Israel. It will only increase the chance for war in the near future.” Because it can’t be guaranteed Iran will never become a nuclear power, at some point Israel would be forced to attack the Iranian nuclear structure, he explained.

If a deal is struck, the United States would release tens of millions of, dollars, which Mandel fears will be used by the Iranians to fund terrorist organizations, destabilizing the region. “It does not include limits on terrorism or limits on human rights abuses,” said Mandel. “They [Iran] are the No. 1 terror state in the world that basically we would be allowing to be put on steroids.”

Just as worldwide and American sanctions are placing a stranglehold on Russia, the prior sanctions were “devastating” Iran, producing mass demonstrations by its population that “would have led to regime change,” said Mandel.

“They don’t think like Westerners,” he warned. “They think of us as evil and weak.”

Even as the U.S. mounts a vigorous response to Russia, Mandel said it was paramount it keep a watchful eye on China, which may see any signal of weaknesses as an opportunity to seize Taiwan. “This is the domino effect of American isolationism and appeasement.”

Mandel explained that the U.S. has a vital role to play in stabilizing the Middle East and other regions of the world. “What our enemies look at is our capabilities and the willingness to use those capabilities,” he said. “That is how you make peace with authoritarian regimes. Saying you are willing to use those capabilities doesn’t make you a warmonger. Appeasement is what leads to war.”

Mandel noted that as the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel and the intelligence it provides to the U.S. is vital to America’s security in keeping terrorist forces like ISIS at bay. Moreover, with vital shipping lanes bringing fossil fuel to the world traversing the area, it is important the U.S. guarantees freedom of the seas with a naval presence.

“I know people don’t like to hear the term ‘world’s policeman,’ but the answer is an emphatic yes, America does have an interest in being in the Middle East,” said Mandel.

To register for the 7:30 p.m. programs go to the federation website, https://jfnnj.org and click under “calendar.” You will be sent a link.

By Debra Rubin

 

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