As stated by Jake Sullivan, a main goal of the US in the current Ukraine war is to "weaken and isolate Russia".

Considering that the US has been a major and frequently sole ally of Israel on pretty much any major issue, I wonder why hasn't it pressured Israel to take a more active approach on Moscow?

I understand that from Israel's perspective, caution is important since Russia can, for example, make its life harder in the region (i.e. Syria).

Or perhaps the influence of such sanctions would be too insignificant for the US to bother, and potentially even outweigh the possible advantages of Israel not having sanctions towards Russia?


4 Answers 4


There are a number of ways to look at it. First of all, many countries have not imposed sanctions on Russia, Israel is by no means unusual. The West can't, nor should, coerce willy-nilly on those countries who don't put up sanctions of their own.

(Times of Isreael) Israel hasn't joined anti-Russia sanctions, but its firms need to tread carefully | The Times of Israel

Israel has managed until now to walk a tightrope between Russia and Ukraine. There are Jewish communities in both nations and Russia maintains a heavy military presence in Syria, on Israel’s northern border, where the IDF needs to be able to continue its aerial sorties against Iran-backed targets. This ostensibly neutral position has enabled Israel to assume the role of mediator between the two warring parties.


Jerusalem is not currently planning to impose sanctions on Moscow or Russian oligarchs, senior Israeli officials told The Times of Israel.

but the same article then goes on to say:

A number of Israeli tech firms have already suspended or pulled their commercial operations in Russia over the ongoing war with Ukraine, including Fiverr, a company that connects businesses with freelancers offering digital services; web creator Wix; payments firm Payoneer; and gaming giant Playtika.

So, a number of Israeli companies have cut ties with Russia and there is no indication either that Israeli firms are engaged in assisting Russia in bypassing Western sanctions. Even China treads carefully there.

So Israel, while not putting in place its own sanctions is abiding by Western sanctions.

Israeli firms that want to trade with private or government entities in Russia and Belarus must check if the entities involved in the deal — whether a trading partner, a financial associate or even a means of transport — are on the sanctions list, the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry said in a March 9 letter it sent to Israeli companies.

And the trade that is taking place is not that significant either (Haaretz):

Israel wasn’t one of the countries that imposed sanctions on Russia, either diplomatic or economic. But it does have a significant number of citizens whose livelihoods depend on their connection to Russia.


This week, the Bank of Israel issued a report predicting that the war in Ukraine and the international sanctions won’t significantly affect Israeli exports.

“First, Israel’s direct trade with Russia and Ukraine amounts to only about 1 percent of Israel’s total trade,” it said.

Last, and certainly controversial to some, just because the US is a close ally of Israel doesn't necessarily mean that Israel always reciprocates the favor. Or at least not when it's not in its national self-interest to do so.

Since we are on a bit of a Mearsheimer binge here lately, that is one of the points made in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy - Wikipedia. No, not so much the book's claims about lobbying as the observation that the US doesn't necessarily always benefit all that much from the relationship. For one thing, while Israel is a strong regional ally, its involvement until recently, tended to be more of a problem than a help, unless it the issue specifically concerned Israel in the first place. Not necessarily because it didn't want to, but because its involvement would have been a cause for Arab rejection.

During Gulf War 1 for example, Israel, far from being able to assist against Iraq, was more of a drain on coalition resources. The reason being that the Arab parts of the coalition would have pulled out if Israel had intervened alongside that the US. Knowing that, Saddam SCUDed Israel, hoping to trigger some Israeli response. The coalition had to divert quite a lot effort towards SCUD hunting in a vast desert area that was outside their own zone of operations.

To take another example, how many US bases are there in Israel? One, a very minor one, and it only opened in 2017.

In 2022, after Israeli-Arab diplomatic normalizations with a number of states, it is quite possible that Israel would be more able to support US foreign policy goals in the region, should it choose to.

The US has excellent relations with Israel and there is a very valid and strong case for guaranteeing Israeli security in the last resort. But this relationship does not necessarily mean that Israel will subordinate its national interests to those of the US.

p.s. what would really be helpful, rather than imposing sanctions, would be if Israel sold some of its weapons to Ukraine. But, again, one can see why the upside to Israel is limited and the downside greater.

p.p.s. "weaken and isolate Russia" should not be a goal the West pursues. Merely allowing Ukraine to restore control over its territory.

p.p.p.s. some areas where the US certainly benefits from the alliance are CIA-Mossad collaboration, defense technology exchange (Israeli weapons tech is topnotch) and science/engineering. Israel is by no means a negligible partner.

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    @Bendemann This kind of a relationship ("shouldn't even be able to question it") is almost exactly what Russia had expected of Ukraine and other countries in its sphere of influence.
    – Therac
    Jun 19, 2022 at 6:35
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    @HK-51 yep and that is certainly what the US expects from most countries, especially close partners, hence the question
    – Bendemann
    Jun 19, 2022 at 6:47
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    Israel doesn't have a good record of doing what they're told (unless they want to), with US presidents making frequent requests about occupied territories, settlers, negotiations with the Palestinians, etc, which successive Israeli governments ignore (example). If it's not in Israel's interest, then Israel absolutely won't do it, and it's not clear than sanctioning Russia is in Israel's interest. So you could argue the question is based on a misapprehension.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 19, 2022 at 14:22
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    this relationship does not necessarily mean that Israel will subordinate its national interests -- what's Israel's salient national interest here that explains why it doesn't follow the US' lead while in many other cases it does? That's the crux of the question, but it's not answered here. Jun 21, 2022 at 12:25
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    @MikeBrockington The USA can expect some level of cooperation from the nations that are aligned with it on critical matters. This is not President-of-the-world stuff, that's what allies are about. I'd argue that stopping Russia's aggression of Ukraine is one such. Note, on this matter, that the US is not averse to pressuring India, which it helps much less. Jun 21, 2022 at 16:51

Israel has not imposed sanctions on Russia primarily because of the role Russia has been playing in Syria. Russia does not use its military presence in Syria to oppose Israeli strikes in Syria against Iran and Hezbollah. This Russian position may change if Israel acts too strongly against Russian interests in Ukraine.


Perhaps the main factor in Israel’s official reluctance to criticize Putin harshly is Russia’s support of the regime in Syria, where both Russian and Iranian forces are present. Israel negotiated an understanding with the Russian military that enables Israeli forces to deconflict with Russian forces and strike Iranian targets in Syria. Israel views the Russian presence there as a check on Iran’s influence and therefore an important protection for Israeli security.

Why Israel Has Been Slow to Support Ukraine: https://www.cfr.org/article/why-israel-has-been-slow-support-ukraine

Russia has convinced the Israelis that it will safeguard the latter’s security interests in Syria so long as Israel doesn’t impede Russian military operations there. In 2018, Moscow falsely made Israel believe that it would, or could, eject Iran from Syria—or at least prevent Tehran and its proxies from deploying along Syria’s southern border with Israel. Russia also maneuvered Israel into a “deconfliction mechanism” by exploiting Jerusalem’s concerns that Moscow could use its S-400 anti-aircraft system to prevent Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iran in Syria. According to some estimates, Israel has, since 2017, reportedly carried out more than four hundred airstrikes against Iran and its allies in Syria and across the Middle East. Per this arrangement, Israel can continue striking in Syria while avoiding inadvertent clashes with Russian troops.

But these ostensibly mutually-beneficial agreements are increasingly proving to be a Russian albatross around Israel’s neck. For example, since the onset of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has leveraged this deconfliction mechanism to keep Israel from fully supporting American-led efforts in favor of Ukraine. At various points during the war, Russia signaled its intention to cancel the arrangement and shut Syrian skies to Israeli aircraft if Jerusalem harms Russian interests. Russia responded to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s cautious support of Ukraine’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty” on February 23 by immediately summoning the Israeli ambassador to Moscow and condemning Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights at the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Though this latter move echoed Russia’s longstanding positions, the timing—shortly after the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s statement and hours before Russian forces attacked Ukraine—seemed intended to send a message. Moscow later insisted that it would continue coordinating with Israel in Syria—even after Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sharply condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—but Jerusalem understood the message.

Israel has, therefore, refrained from taking actions that could directly harm Moscow’s interests. This has included avoiding co-sponsoring the United States’ condemnation of Russia at the UNSC, imposing its own sanctions on Moscow, and occasional equivocation in condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Jerusalem has also denied Ukrainian requests for military aid—including defensive or non-lethal assistance or permitting third-party countries to transfer Israeli-made weapons to the Ukrainians—and maintained its refusal to sell the Pegasus spyware to Kyiv. Furthermore, Israel has repeatedly refused to sell Kyiv its Iron Dome missile defense system, though this platform would be of questionable utility to the Ukrainians in their fight against Russia.

Israel won’t stick out its neck for Ukraine. It’s because of Russia: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/israel-wont-stick-out-its-neck-for-ukraine-its-because-of-russia/

According to international relations expert Yonatan Freeman at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel finds itself in a delicate position, because of its large ex-Soviet population and amid continuing conflicts in the Middle East.

“With the current crisis there have been two main camps concerning whether Israel should take a side between Russia and Ukraine,” he told Al Jazeera. “One major camp has declared we need to maintain neutrality, because of the weight of relations with Moscow. Israel is concerned that a greater distance between Jerusalem and Moscow may cause the latter to be more indifferent to Israel’s security concerns at home and abroad.

“Bennett wants Russia to continue to be understanding of Israel’s activities in Syria and to be open to hearing our concerns on Iran. Israel also wants to make sure the large Jewish population in Russia continues to be seen in good light and that links to Israel, including by air, continue.”

Israel has carried out air strikes on the Lebanese group – and Russia’s ally in Syria – Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, another country close to Moscow.

Ukraine war: Israel treads careful line as public blames Russia: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/17/ukraine-war-israel-treads-careful-line-as-public-blames-russia

  • 1
    I'm not sure it's worth belaboring this with another answer, but recently Bennett said "Once or twice a week, we attack the Iranian presence in Syria, and Russia, the superpower, has the S-300 [air defense system] there, and if they press the button, Israeli pilots will fall." businessinsider.com/… Feb 18, 2023 at 23:18

Israel has thousands of Jewish immigrants who came from USSR and Russia. These immigrants have their connections in Russia.

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    Because of historical reasons, most people of Jewish descent in USSR lived in Ukraine.
    – fraxinus
    Jun 19, 2022 at 10:39
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    @fraxinus, Jewish Autonomous Oblast
    – user366312
    Jun 19, 2022 at 10:52
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    Now look at its ethnic content. USSR intended, but never succeeded to move significant number of them there. And most of those that actually moved in, moved out at first oportunity - either to Israel or to european parts of USSR.
    – fraxinus
    Jun 19, 2022 at 11:01
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    This is a fact but not at all obviously a cause and nothing in the post establishes that it is a cause.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 22, 2022 at 23:52

Israel is one of the few Western countries without visa restrictions against Russia, making it popular for Russian tourists. After all that COVID stuff, Israel needs tourists, so why lose the Russian ones?

Israel tries to keep some kind of neutrality, similar to Turkey, so it can become a place for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in the future.

I will definitely not go as far as Kontovski, but some Israelis are definitely not hapy with glorification of Nazis and other anti-Semites in Ukraine. Here is a reference that such people exist. Also, comparing the current situation in Ukraine with the Holocaust, Zelensky hasn't made Ukraine popular in Israel.


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