Israeli leaders on ‘thin ice’ as they try to maintain neutrality in Russia-Ukraine crisis: Expert

Demonstrators wave a giant Ukrainian national flag during a protest on Feb. 26, 2022, in front of the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Jack Guez / AFP)
Demonstrators wave a giant Ukrainian national flag during a protest on Feb. 26, 2022, in front of the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Jack Guez / AFP)
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Updated 27 February 2022

Israeli leaders on ‘thin ice’ as they try to maintain neutrality in Russia-Ukraine crisis: Expert

Israeli leaders on ‘thin ice’ as they try to maintain neutrality in Russia-Ukraine crisis: Expert
  • ‘Israel has to balance its relations with world powers,’ Hussain Abdul-Hussain tells Arab News
  • Tel Aviv relies on Moscow for access to Syrian airspace, used to target Iranian militias

NEW YORK: Although Israel has rejected a US request to back a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it will likely vote in favor of the measure when it reaches the 193-member UN General Assembly, according to media reports quoting Foreign Ministry officials.

The US had issued an appeal when it sent out the draft: “Vote no, or abstain, if you do not support the (UN) charter and align yourselves with the aggressive and unprovoked actions of Russia. Just as Russia had a choice, so do you.”

Over 80 countries have accepted the US request to co-sponsor the resolution, which was tabled in tandem with temporary UNSC member Albania, and would have condemned Russia in “the strongest possible terms” and demanded the immediate withdrawal of its forces from Ukraine.  

Russia on Friday vetoed the measure with China, India and the UAE abstaining from the vote. The 11 remaining UNSC members voted in favor.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, has asked the UNGA president to organize an emergency session under the so-called “Uniting for Peace” resolution, which gives the General Assembly the power to call emergency meetings to discuss matters of international peace and security when the UNSC is unable to act due to a lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members: The US, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Although Israel generally follows the lead of the US at the UN, it has at times resisted doing so to avoid upsetting other allies.

Being the only Western democracy that maintains relatively warm relations with both Russia and Ukraine, Israel has so far avoided a stronger stance on Moscow.

Israel is tied to Ukraine on many levels, said Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based non-partisan organization focused on foreign policy and national security.

“First and foremost, 250,000 Jews are estimated to be living in Ukraine. The city of Uman in west Ukraine hosts the shrine of Reb Nachman of Bresolov, one of the founders of the Hassidic movement,” he told Arab News.

“Every year, tens of thousands of Hassidic Jewish pilgrims visit Ukraine’s Uman. President (Volodymyr) Zelensky himself is Jewish. All these ties mean relations between Ukraine and Israel are more than the average relations between two random countries.”

Abdul-Hussain said Israeli ties with Russia, on the other hand, grew after the US Democratic administrations began pivoting away from the Middle East, leaving their allies to “figure out how to manage their affairs.”

He added that with Moscow stepping in to fill the vacuum left by the absence of American leadership in the Syrian crisis, Israel was forced to coordinate with Russia “in order to guarantee that Iranian militias don’t strike root in southern Syria, from where they can threaten the Jewish state.

“Had America been calling the shots in Syria, like it did in Iraq in 1991 when Israel didn’t even respond to Saddam Hussein’s missiles, Israel wouldn’t have been coordinating with the Russians today in its strike on Iranian targets inside Syria.”

Abdul-Hussain added: “Israeli ties with Moscow are based on interests. When Russia felt that Israel issued a cautious statement on its invasion of Ukraine, Russian state media thrashed Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. That’s how tenuous Israeli-Russian relations are.”

The Israeli government on Thursday condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid saying it is “a violation of the world order.”

But Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has refrained from publicly condemning Russia, calling for stronger diplomacy and extending humanitarian aid to Ukrainians.

Far from being incidental, any difference in statements between Lapid and Bennett “must have been totally planned and intentional,” said Abdul-Hussain.

“The popular Israeli sentiment is anti-Russian and its leaders understand this. However, Israel has to balance its relations with world powers, especially in the absence of America,” he added.

“They (Lapid and Bennett) are the leaders of a (governing) coalition that’s walking on thin ice, and they tend to coordinate big moves closely.”

If opposition to the Russian war keeps snowballing, Israel will go with the flow with the international community, Abdul-Hussain said.

But, he added, Israel will also make sure “to remain a step behind in order to maintain minimum required relations with Russia, especially over Syria.”


Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province
Updated 8 sec ago

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province
TEHRAN: Authorities in a northern Iran province have arrested 450 people during more than 10 days of protests following a young Kurdish woman’s death in morality policy custody, state media reported Monday.
Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country since unrest first broke out after Mahsa Amini’s death was announced on September 16.
Amini, whose Kurdish first name was Jhina, was detained three days before that in Tehran for allegedly breaching rules mandating hijab head coverings and modest dress.
“During the troubles of the past days, 450 rioters have been arrested in Mazandaran,” the northern province’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Karimi, was quoted as saying by official news agency IRNA.
They “have attacked government buildings and damaged public property in several parts of Mazandaran,” he added.
Local media reported that protesters were shouting anti-regime slogans, and Karimi said they were led by “foreign anti-revolutionary agents.”
On Saturday, authorities in the neighboring Guilan province announced the arrest of 739 people, including 60 women.
Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency” against the core instigators of the “riots,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.
At least 41 people have died since the unrest began, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll.
Photos published Monday by the Tasnim news agency showed protesters in Qom, a holy Shiite city about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
Security forces have released these images of “lead instigators,” Tasnim reported, asking residents to “identify them and inform the authorities.”

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days
Updated 56 min 12 sec ago

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days

DUBAI: Lebanon expects a written offer from US mediator Amos Hochstein concerning the demarcation of a maritime border with Israel by the end of the week, Lebanon’s presidency tweeted on Monday.
Lebanon’s deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab met with Hochstein last week during a visit to New York and briefed President Michel Aoun on the outcome, the presidency added.
Hochstein has been shuttling between Lebanon and Israel — enemy states with a history of conflict — in a bid to forge a compromise over the maritime boundary that would allow both to explore for offshore energy reserves.
A deal would defuse one potential source of conflict between Israel and the heavily armed, Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has warned against any Israeli exploration and extraction in the disputed waters.


Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure
Updated 53 min 59 sec ago

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure
  • Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout have progressed sluggishly

BEIRUT: Banks in crisis-hit Lebanon partially reopened Monday following a weeklong closure amid a wave of heists in which assailants stormed at least seven bank branches earlier this month, demanding to withdraw their trapped savings.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said last Monday it was going on strike amid bank holdups by depositors and activists — a sign of growing chaos in the tiny Mideast nation.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks had last closed for a prolonged period back in October 2019, for two weeks, during mass anti-government protests triggered by the crisis. That year, the banks imposed strict limits on cash withdrawals, tying up the savings of millions of people.
The country’s economy has since spiraled, with about three-quarters of the population plunged into poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value against the dollar.
The frustrations boiled over this month, with angry and desperate depositors — including one armed with a hunting rifle — started holding up the banks. One of them, Sali Hafez, broke into a Beirut bank branch with a fake pistol and retrieved some $13,000 in her savings to cover her sister’s cancer treatment.
However, only a handful of bank branches opened Monday — accepting only customers with prior appointments for corporate transactions. The partial reopening was to continue indefinitely, until banks can secure the safety of their employees.
Crowds of anxious Lebanese gathered around ATM machines.
“I’ve been here for three hours, and they won’t let me in or schedule an appoint,” Fadi Al-Osta told The Associated Press outside a bank branch in Beirut. “The security guards can let us in one at a time and check for weapons. Isn’t that their job?”
George Al-Hajj, president of Lebanon’s Federation of Bank Employees Syndicates, said branches have downsized, to have a larger number of security guards per branch.
“Our goal isn’t to harm anyone, but we want to go to work feeling safe and secure,” Al-Hajj said. “We’re also human beings.”
Tensions were simmering in the southern city of Sidon, where State Security forces armed with assault rifles stood outside some bank branches. Some police officers and army soldiers, whose salaries have lost over 90 percent of their value, unsuccessfully tried to break into a bank branch to collect small cash bonus recently granted by the government.
Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout have progressed sluggishly, with authorities failing to implement critical reforms, including restructuring the banking sector and lifting banking secrecy laws. Last week, a visiting IMF delegation criticized the government’s slowness to implement desperately-needed financial reforms.


Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response
Updated 26 September 2022

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response
  • Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic

DUBAI: US attempts to violate Iran’s sovereignty over the issue of protests triggered by the death of a woman in police custody will not go unanswered, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress.
The case has drawn international condemnation. Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic.
“Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told Nour news, which is affiliated with a top security body, in a statement.


Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry

Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry
Updated 26 September 2022

Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry

Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry
  • The highly contagious disease has also spread to the country’s Kurdish-held and opposition areas in north and northwestern Syria

AMMAN: A cholera outbreak in several regions of Syria has killed 29 people, the Syrian health ministry said on Monday in what the UN has called the worst outbreak in the war-torn country for years.
Rapid assessment testing confirmed 338 cases since the outbreak was first recorded last month, with the bulk of deaths and cases in the northern Aleppo province, the ministry said in a statement.
It said 230 cases were in Aleppo province where 25 people were confirmed dead. The rest were spread across the country.
The United Nations this month said the outbreak was believed be linked to irrigation of crops using contaminated water and people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates river which bisects Syria from the north to the east.
The highly contagious disease has also spread to the country’s Kurdish-held and opposition areas in north and northwestern Syria where millions have been displaced by the decade-old conflict, medical officials said.
Suspected cholera cases have risen to 2,092 in the northeast of Syria since the outbreak was announced this month, said the US-based International Rescue Committee (IRC) which operates in the northern region.
It said there were fears about significant under-reporting of cases.
The widespread destruction of national water infrastructure after more than a decade of war means much of the Syrian population is reliant on unsafe water sources.
Prior to the recent cholera outbreak, the water crisis had caused an increase in diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition and skin conditions in the region, according to the World Health Organization.