Senior minister indicates Israel unlikely to expel Russian diplomats

While Israel should “behave as part of the Western world,” it should also be proud “that we can negotiate, talk and live side-by-side with the Russians," Yoav Gallant said.

US, EU expel over 100 Russian diplomats, March 26, 2018. (Reuters)
With Russia in Israel’s “backyard,” Jerusalem must do what is in its interest – not what is in the interests of others – regarding whether it should join other Western countries and expel Russian diplomats over the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, Construction Minister Yoav Gallant said on Tuesday.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post at a briefing sponsored by the Israel Project whether Israel should join a long list of Western countries and expel Russian diplomats, Gallant said that Israel is not seen by the Russians as an enemy for a number of reasons.
“First of all because we share some ideas and interests,” said Gallant, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet who will speak at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on April 29.
“Secondly, because there are more than a million immigrants who have come from Russia to Israel, and the Russian administration views them as citizens, or old citizens, or veterans of Russia.
“And thirdly, we have to remember what are the proportions and what are the distances.”
For Israel, Gallant said, Russia is now in its backyard. And while Israel should “behave as part of the Western world,” it should also be proud “that we can negotiate, talk and live side-by-side with the Russians. “This is what we are doing,” he continued, adding that so far Israel has maneuvered carefully and well in very complicated situation where the Russians “are here.”
Gallant said that Israel’s relationship with the Russians is a far cry from what it used to be under the Soviet Union. “We talk to them, they talk to us. There is a deconfliction mechanism on the military side [in Syria] that everyone can see. We respect the Russians.”
Noting the obvious, that Israel’s closest ally is the US, and pointing out that Moscow is in dialogue and has a relationship with the Iranians, Gallant maintained that “the Russians are not our enemies, and we should use the upside of their presence [in Syria], and try to avoid the downside of their presence.”
Asked to define the upside, Gallant replied: “When a superpower is here, it gives a dimension of stabilization to the situation. A war between Israel and Hezbollah is not a Russian interest, it doesn’t serve them in any way – and they know how to deter these guys, plus what we are doing [in terms of deterring Hezbollah].”
Gallant said that the issue of expelling Russian diplomats has not been discussed by the security cabinet.
The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, would not comment on whether Israel intends to take actions against Russian diplomats in solidarity with the British, or whether it has been asked to do so.
In addition to Britain, another 23 countries have expelled some Russian diplomats, with the US expelling 60 diplomats on Monday. Of the 23 countries, 17 of them are EU countries. In addition to the US, the other non-EU countries to take this move are Canada, Ukraine, Albania, Norway, Australia and Macedonia.
Among the EU countries that have, like Israel, not taken a similar move are Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovenia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Austria, Greece, Malta and Slovakia. There are currently 28 EU countries.
Last week Britain let Israel know that it was not pleased with the statement Jerusalem issued condemning the poison attack but which did not explicitly mention Russia. A statement put out by the British Embassy said that Britain expects “strong statements of support from all our close partners, Israel included.”
Moscow, on the other hand, praised Israel for not being drawn into what it said was a hysterical anti-Russian campaign following the poisoning.
Asked on Monday whether Britain had asked Israel to take action against Russian diplomats, or whether London was disappointed that Israel had not yet done so, a spokeswoman at the British Embassy replied that the embassy has “nothing to add on top of what we’ve said last week.”