| 2 March 2024, Saturday |

Bennett says Israel will try to mediate on Ukraine even if prospect slim

Even though success appears improbable, Israel will continue to try to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday after returning from unexpected discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine has asked Israel to act as a middleman, noting the Bennett administration’s solid connections with both Kyiv and Moscow. Bennett’s office stated that he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy three times over the weekend.

Bennett revealed no specifics about his three-hour meeting with Putin in the Kremlin on Saturday, stating only that it had “the support and encouragement of all parties” – a hint to the United States, among others – in televised remarks to his cabinet. Bennett and Putin spoke on the phone last week about the possibility of mediation.

“We will continue to help wherever it is asked, even if the prospects are slim,” Bennett added. “I consider it as a moral obligation to make every effort as soon as there is even a minor opening and we have access to both sides and the capabilities.”

Israel has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, expressed solidarity with Kyiv and sent humanitarian aid. But Bennett has not met Ukrainian requests for military assistance and has kept channels open to Russia, with which Israel coordinates operations against Iranian deployments in Syria.

Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said he had declined Ukrainian requests to ban nine Russian media outlets on the grounds they were propagandizing.

“These (broadcasters) did not meet any kind of threshold that would necessitate their blocking. I would like to remind you that, in a democracy, blocking media channels is a very dramatic event,” Hendel told reporters.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Israel, which has a population of 9.2 million, was bracing for a “very, very big wave” of immigration sparked by the conflict.

This could entail taking in more than 200,000 Ukrainians who are Jewish or have Jewish family links and more than 600,000 Russians in the same categories, she said.

In what local media have cast as a bid to prevent Russian oligarchs from fleeing to Israel to evade sanctions, the Israel Airports Authority said it had received instructions not to allow private jets to park for more than 24 hours.

  • Reuters