The Russian invasion of Ukraine has only just begun, yet the lessons for Israel are already obvious and they’re not very encouraging.
Lesson #1: The international community will not rescue you.
If ever there was a situation in which the international community would be totally justified to come to the armed defense of a beleaguered ally, this is it.
Ukraine is the innocent victim of Russian aggression. Ukraine is a democracy; Russia is de-facto totalitarian. Ukraine’s location makes it strategically vital to the West. Yet, none of that matters.
Not a single country is willing to take up arms to defend Ukraine against the Russian assault. Every one of the reasons cited above and many more would apply if Israel was again invaded by its Arab neighbors. And not a single country, including Israel’s closest allies, would pick up a gun if Israel faced annihilation.
For years, the Jewish Left and the United States (US) State Department crowd have been proposing that US peacekeeping troops should be stationed in Judea-Samaria and the Golan Heights. The idea is to lure Israel into surrendering those territories, based on the assumption that a Palestinian state or its allies would never attack American troops.
However, the American peacekeepers would flee the moment war seemed imminent, exactly as the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping troops fled from the Sinai on the eve of the 1967 war and exactly as the UN troops in southern Lebanon have proven to be completely helpless in the face of Hezbollah’s de facto control of that region.
Israelis watching the unfolding of the Ukraine crisis undoubtedly recall Israel’s own bitter experiences with international indifference in the face of Arab aggression.
When Arab armies invaded the newborn Jewish state in 1948, the Truman administration declared an arms embargo and refused to give Israel a single bullet.
When Arab armies surrounded Israel in 1967 and prepared to attack, the Johnson administration refused to lift a finger.
When Arab armies prepared to invade Israel in 1973, secretary of state Henry Kissinger pressured the Israelis not to strike first and then withheld weapons for ten days in order to prevent Israel from achieving a decisive victory.
When Israel defended itself against mass rocket attacks by Hezbollah in 2006 and by Hamas in 2008, 2014, and 2021, the US pressured the Israelis to end their operations prematurely, thus granting de facto victories to the terrorists.
Lesson #2: The hypocrisy will never end.
Regardless of Russia’s own behavior, Russia and its allies will continue to falsely accuse Israel of illegally occupying Arab territory.
Even though Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria is fully supported by history and international law, and even though Russia illegally occupies large parts of Ukraine, the accusations against Israel will continue.
Human rights groups will continue to obsessively focus on the Israeli occupation, while paying little or no attention to Russia’s occupation of Ukraine. The UN will continue to adopt mountains of resolutions condemning Israel and will ignore Ukraine.
Lesson #3: Appeasers will look for ways to appease.
World leaders who see appeasement as the easy way out will continue look for ways to appease dictators rather than confront them.
The entire world heard President Biden’s initial statement that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine would not result in a serious western response. In the face of intense criticism, the administration retracted that position. But the whiff of appeasement was clearly in the air.
Others have been more explicit. Italy’s foreign minister has declared that international penalties against Russia should not include “the energy sector.” Inevitably, other European leaders will soon look for ways to weaken or evade imposing real sanctions on Russia.
Lesson #4: It matters who your neighbors are.
Throughout history, dictators have constantly assaulted their neighbors. Sometimes they have been motivated by religion or nationalism; sometimes they have wanted to distract their own population from domestic problems. Usually, some combination of those motives has been involved. Whatever their motives, the indisputable fact is that authoritarian regimes often turn aggressive.
Israel is right to be concerned about the fact that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (in Gaza) are dictatorships, not democracies. And Israel is right to worry about the fact that those regimes are deeply corrupt, deny civil rights to their citizens and refuse to hold truly democratic elections. Democracies tend to be peaceful neighbors, dictatorships tend not to be.
Thus, the Ukraine crisis is a reminder to Israel that this is what happens when you have a hostile, fascist dictatorship next door. And when a hostile Palestine and its Arab allies prepare to attack, nobody will come to Israel’s rescue.
The writer is an attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror,” and a new Israeli citizen.