Opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin is “having second thoughts” about his expansionist efforts, and revealed that he would consider supplying arms to Ukraine if he returns to office after Israel’s November 1 elections.
The comments appeared to mark a departure from the previous prime minister’s long-held position that Israel should remain more neutral regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, given Israel’s desire to take care of its freedom of movement to strike Iranian targets in Syria whose skies Moscow controls.
In July, he tore into the present government for making a “dangerous crisis” with Russia after he had worked for years to develop a “measured, balanced and responsible relationship with the Kremlin.
In a Friday interview with USA Today, Netanyahu reiterated that time, saying that “Our air forces are flying side by side over the skies of Syria. [As prime minister], I wanted to guarantee the liberty of motion of the Israeli Air Force to principally pummel Iran’s military positions that they tried to ascertain in Syria to open a second terror front against us. Thank God we’ve been successful in doing that.”
Netanyahu was then asked if he believes Putin is acting rationally as he expands Russian military operations in Ukraine.
“I feel he’s guided by his vision of reconstituting a fantastic Russian realm, and I hope he’s having second thoughts about it,” he responded.
“But I don’t need to play psychologist. I need to be within the position of being prime minister, getting all the data, then making decisions on what and if we do anything on this conflict beyond what has been done up to now,” he added.
Netanyahu then identified that the present government is being criticized for its refusal to produce weapons to Ukraine.
“I used to be asked about that recently, and I said I’ll look into it after I get into office,” the opposition chairman said, appearing to go further in his willingness to practically support Ukraine than ever before. “All of us have sympathy for Ukraine. It’s not even an issue, and I’m no different.”
Netanyahu also revealed that he was asked to mediate between Russia and Ukraine after the war broke out.
“I said, ‘Well, I feel I’ll leave that to the sitting prime minister to choose.”
Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett would go on to mediate between Putin and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, traveling to Moscow and holding a handful of phone calls with each leaders.
Nonetheless, his effort never ended up bearing fruit and he put the matter aside after several months as his government began to crumble.
Netanyahu, who previously has boasted of his close ties with Putin, said Friday that the mediation offer “presumably would come up again” if he’s returned to power.
The Likud chairman is seen as having a really realistic shot at returning to office within the November 1 election.
The position Netanyahu offered on Friday also seemed to be a softened version of comments made two days earlier when asked about the potential for arming Ukraine.
During a Wednesday interview with MSNBC, Netanyahu said that “repeatedly…weapons that we supplied in a single battlefield find yourself in Iranian hands used against us.”
The previous prime minister cited an incident on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights wherein the IDF “encountered Israeli-made weapons” in a spot “where we are attempting to forestall Iran from opening a second Lebanon front, a second terrorist front against us.”
Netanyahu can have been alluding to a 2016 incident wherein drone technology originally sold to Russia was then sold to the Iranian military, who deployed the Russian-manufactured drone against Israel.
Paradoxically, the Israeli Air Force reportedly didn’t down the drone with two Patriot missiles, as a substitute calling on Russian Air Force capabilities to down the aerial vehicle.
Within the TV interview, Netanyahu offered rare support for the present government, highlighting its “pragmatic” stance vis-à-vis Ukraine.
Earlier that day, The Latest York Times reported that Russia has drawn down forces in Syria and removed the delicate S-300 anti-aircraft system that has been a serious threat to Israeli Air Force operations within the country.
The event could open the door for Jerusalem to upgrade its level of support for Kyiv, as Russia’s presence in Syria has been a serious consideration for Israel’s position on the matter.
A senior Israeli defense official and two senior Western diplomats told The Times that the redeployment would decrease Russian leverage on Israel and that this may occasionally lead Jerusalem to reconsider its support for Ukraine.
The Israeli position is believed to be based on its desire to take care of freedom of operations in Syria in addition to to avoid causing problems for Russia’s large Jewish community. Israel can also be concerned that as Russia pulls out its military presence in Syria, Iran will have the option to extend its influence.
Moscow has already moved to curb Jewish institutions within the country: Over the summer, Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a petition to liquidate the Russian offices of the Jewish Agency for Israel — a semi-governmental organization that encourages and facilitates Jewish immigration — in what analysts view as a response to Israel’s criticism of the invasion.
On Wednesday Defense Minister Benny Gantz stressed that while Israel will proceed its support for Ukraine over the invasion, “it would not deliver weapon systems to Ukraine, attributable to quite a lot of operational considerations.”
Nonetheless, he said Jerusalem could supply an early-warning system to the beleaguered nation to warn of incoming strikes, just like the one utilized in Israel.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba amid anger in Kyiv over Israel’s refusal to produce arms to Ukraine because it battles Russia’s invasion.
After the phone discussion, Lapid tweeted that Kuleba updated him on the war, while the prime minister said he “shared with him [Kuleba] our deep concern concerning the military ties between Iran and Russia,” affirming that “Israel stands with the Ukrainian people.”
Nonetheless, Lapid made no mention of Ukraine’s formal request that Israel supply Ukraine with air defense systems within the wake of the barrage of Russian strikes in recent days, many believed carried out with Iranian-supplied drones.
On Monday, Dmitri Medvedev, the deputy head of the Russian Security Council, warned Israel in a social media post that any “reckless” supply of military equipment to Ukraine “will destroy all interstate relations between our countries.”
Israel has previously provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including operating a field hospital for several weeks within the early days of the conflict, and in addition protective military equipment similar to helmets and flak jackets. More recently, nevertheless, it has also provided the Ukrainians with intelligence about Iranian drones, in keeping with Ukrainian and Israeli officials, who say that Israel has also offered to look at the stays of drones that crashed.