On February 4, 2023, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett caused a stir by posting an interview on his YouTube channel where he claimed that the United States and its satrapies in Europe “blocked” his attempts to broker a peace between Russia and Ukraine in the early days of Russia’s “special military operation.”
For those with short-term memory, Bennet made a trip to Russia on March 4, 2022, to talk with President Vladimir Putin. During the interview, he went into the mediation process that he tried to facilitate between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Per the former Israeli Prime Minister, both sides apparently agreed to make significant concessions as he mediated the negotiations. Putin allegedly agreed to scrap “denazification” as a precondition for a ceasefire. For Bennett, “denazification” consisted of deposing Zelensky from power. While meeting Putin in Moscow, Bennett claimed that the Russian leader vowed to not try to kill Zelensky.
In addition, Russia conceded to no longer pursue the disarmament of Ukraine. On Ukraine’s part, it conceded to no longer pursuing NATO membership. Bennett believed that Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO was the primary motive behind Russia’s invasion.
The former Israeli Prime Minister claims that he was making considerable progress with regards to his mediation efforts. In addition, he asserted that then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson maintained a hawkish approach to Russia, while French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took more pragmatic lines. Per Bennett’s read of the situation, Biden oscillated between hawkish and pragmatic positions.
When it was all said and done, Western leaders scuttled Bennett’s attempt to bring peace to Ukraine. The former Israeli Prime Minister said the following about the West’s actions towards his efforts to mediate the Russo-Ukrainian conflict:
Basically, yes. They blocked it, and I thought they were wrong.
Bennett was rather candid about his actions here. Israel effectively shares a border with Russia. The Slavic nuclear power has significant military assets in Syria that are deployed there to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which has been facing regime change attempts since 2011. Israel has long desired regime change in Syria while also trying to keep Iran from establishing a foothold there. In the latter case, Israel has launched airstrikes in Syria to target allegedly Iranian-backed proxies.
With Russia in the mix, Israel must tread lightly. Russia already has S-300 air defenses installed in Syria, which could give Israel hiccups should it start targeting Russian forces or pursuing more direct measures to topple the Assad government. Bennett recognized this harsh reality noting that if “they [Russians] press the button [S-300 missile systems], Israeli pilots will fall.”
Those are the realities of a multipolar world. In America’s unipolar moment, Israel could throw its weight around as it pleased. However, with Russia gaining more influence in the Middle East, Israel can no longer pursue openly expansionist or destabilizing measures against governments that are on good terms with the Russians such as Syria or Iran, for that matter.
Israel is not pursuing peace in Ukraine out of a non-interventionist instinct. It’s doing so out of a concern for its national interest. Israel simply doesn’t want to face a national humiliation in Syria where units from its vaunted Air Force get shot down. Nor does it want Russia to get too cozy with Iran — a scenario that could threaten Israel’s security interests in the Middle East.
All in all, Israel’s juggling act here is a harbinger of the realist foreign policies that traditional American allies will have to make in a multipolar world order where the US is not the only great power calling the shots.