Israel continues to tread carefully around the crisis in the Ukraine, even as Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman met separately in Rome Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Beyond saying that the Ukrainian issue was discussed in the meeting with Lavrov, Liberman’s office provided no details about the substance of the conversation.
No details at all were given about the hour-long, private meeting with Kerry, though that meeting was expected to deal primarily with the negotiations with the Palestinians.
Kerry and Lavrov were in Rome to participate in a conference on Libya.
Liberman’s meetings with Lavrov and Kerry was preceded Wednesday evening by Israel’s first formal reaction to the developments in Ukraine, a statement that – according to Israeli officials – came at Washington’s urging.
Washington, one official said, took notice of the countries that commented on the Ukrainian crisis, noticed that Israel had not officially issued a statement and prodded Jerusalem to do so. It is not clear whether Israel’s non-descript comment satisfied the Americans.
“Israel is watching with great concern the developments in Ukraine, anxious for the security of all its residents and hoping that the situation does not deteriorate to the loss of life,” the statement said. “Israel expects the crisis in Ukraine will be handled through diplomatic means and resolved peacefully.”
The most common explanation given in Jerusalem for the blandness of the statement – it did not relate directly to the Crimean Peninsula or talk about territorial integrity – was that Jerusalem did not want to antagonize either Washington or Moscow.
While the US is clearly Israel’s greatest ally, Jerusalem has an interest in continuing to maintain good ties with Russia. It also has an interest in good stable relations between the US and Russia, so they can work together on issues of paramount importance for Israel: Iran and Syria.
According to a statement released by Liberman’s office, he and Lavrov discussed Syria, the Palestinian negotiations and “other issues on the agenda.”
Liberman expressed to Lavrov his concern about the situation in Syria and pointed out that the missiles intercepted at high sea on Wednesday, on their way to the Gaza Strip, were made in Syria.
Israel, Liberman said, has seen increased efforts by Syria to transfer quality weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, and would not reconcile itself to that situation.
Furthermore, he said, Israel was worried about efforts by “extreme groups” to heat up the Golan Heights front.
Liberman said he hoped that Russia would continue in its efforts to ensure that the chemical weapons will be taken out of Syria. He expressed satisfaction at the “good relations” between the two countries and the strengthening of economic, trade and tourism ties.