While the Russian troops are encircling Kyiv and other cities and the fighting is intensifying, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is calling on the outside world to support its resistance and appealing for mediation to bring about a cease-fire and a diplomatic solution to the conflict with Russia.
As already reported, he has rejected a Russian proposal for talks in Belarus, which participates in the invasion of Ukraine and where he would risk be taken prisoner. Any other city outside Belarus would be suitable, Zelensky added, and listed Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul, and Baku. “We have proposed them all. And any other city would suit us as long as they don’t fire rockets at us from their territory.”
Another city which has been proposed by Ukraine is Jerusalem. President Zelensky called Israel’s Prime Israel’s Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday and asked for Israel to serve as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine.
“We want the negotiations to take place in Jerusalem,” Zelensky was quoted as having told Bennett, expressing hope that he could help negotiate a ceasefire because of Israel’s good relations with both Ukraine and Russia. “We think that Israel is the country that could hold such negotiations in the middle of the war.” Israel did not reply immediately to his request.
In Israel, the issue is sensitive because of Russia’s involvement in Syria and the need to coordinate with Russia as regards military operations in the country. While Israel has said that it is prepared to provide humanitarian assistance, it has been sitting on the fences until recently.
Only last Thursday did Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid condemn the Russian invasion as a blatant violation of international agreements and expressed support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Prime Minister Bennet, who met Putin last year, was more careful and did not mention the Russian invasion.
“Like everyone else, we pray for peace and calm in Ukraine, and still hope that dialogue will lead to a resolution. These are difficult and tragic moments, and our hearts are with the civilians that, through no fault of their own, have been thrust into this situation. Israel will mobilize to extend humanitarian aid as needed. We have the capability; we are experienced and we will help Ukraine's citizens as much as possible.”
“Israel is secondary actor here and should not take sides,” commented Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to the EU. “Perhaps Europe and the US will ask us to come out unequivocally in favour of the West, but Israel should not adopt an overtly sharp stance. Israel’s interests are complex and must consider Russia’s regional presence, especially in Syria, as well the Iran-Russia connections and the Jews in Russia.”
The Brussels Times asked two Israeli experts at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for their assessment of the military situation in Ukraine and the prospects of mediation.
“For the moment, as we can see, the Russians are fighting in four main areas,” replied Professor Danny Orbach, a military historian and expert on Germany, Russia and the Middle East.
First, in the breakaway regions in the east, where the situation is relatively frozen but where the Russian objective appears to be to confine the Ukrainian troops. Second, in the Charkov area in the north-east of the country, where Russia tries to encircle Ukraine’s second biggest city and penetrate it, without conquering it completely.”
“Third, in the Kyiv area, which includes mainly Russian bombardments and infiltration by airborne special troops to key points in the Ukrainian capital.”
The most dangerous area is in the south from the direction of Crimea, he says. “The Russians, that apparently have met fierce resistance in their attempt to advance westwards to Odessa, are trying to break through in the north and west to encircle the Ukrainian troops in the Donbass region.”
Do you think that Ukraine will be able to continue to defend itself or will the war become a protracted guerrilla war?
“I suppose that if the regular Ukrainian troops will be defeated and there won’t be any agreement, we’ll see a guerrilla war, in which the Ukrainians excelled against both Nazi-Germany and Stalin after WWII.”
Asked if Israel should become a mediator, Dr. Yonatan Freeman, an International Relations Expert at Hebrew University, replied that he thinks that Israel is one of the best countries in the world right now which can serve as a mediator because of its close links to both sides,
“We understand the cultural aspects of both sides, as large numbers of Jews from Russian and Ukraine live in Israel and are members of our government and even defense establishment. Israel may also be able to offer something to both sides in return to make such a negotiation possible, or even a ceasefire.”
He recalled the economic agreement signed not so long ago between Serbia and Kosovo, mediated by the US, but in which Israel was in some way a part of and maybe even allowed to make it happen. “I think that Israel is already mediating behind the scenes.”
Referring to Israel’s reluctance to take sides, he said that Israel's current position is understandable given its close relationship with the US/Ukraine and with Russia. “Israel has concerns that distancing itself from Russia may impact the ability of Israel to operate from the air in Syria, and at the same time Israel is one of America's close allies."
“It remains to be seen what actual actions Israel takes with regards to the war, for example, whether it will join sanctions, provide weapons indirectly to Ukraine through NATO allies, allow Ukraine refugees in here, including representatives of the government. For now, Israel will be providing humanitarian assistance - one can't rule out even Israel deciding to open a field hospital on one of Ukraine's borders.
However, the more the battle continues, and the need for more actions will be expected by the United States vis-a-vis Israel, Jerusalem may be inclined to join a number of moves against Russia, he added.
What kind of political/diplomatic solution is feasible to preserve Ukraine's independence and address Russia's security concerns?
“I think there is still time for the West to influence Putin with certain actions which will make his actions costly and for him to stop them. The response of the West depends on what happens next and are also related to the civilian cost of the war. Heavy civilian casualties, or a massive refugee wave, may cause Western public opinion to call for more steps to assist Ukraine."
The Brussels Times