Narrow bridges

Israel, furious at Lavrov’s Hitler comment, cannot cut ties with Russia

RAMALLAH: There are signs that a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Russia, sparked by a comment by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, could escalate.

Israeli leaders were furious when, during an interview with an Italian television station on Sunday, he suggested that Hitler was of Jewish origin.

Asked how Russia can claim to be fighting to “denazify” Ukraine when President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish, Lavrov replied: “I could be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood. (The fact that Zelensky is Jewish) means absolutely nothing. Jewish sages say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews.

Six million Jews were murdered by Hitler’s Nazi Germany during the Holocaust in World War II. Lavrov’s comment sparked a storm of anger in Israel, and the country’s foreign ministry summoned the Russian ambassador on Tuesday, demanding clarification and an apology.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Lavrov’s remarks “unforgivable and shameful” and a “serious historical mistake”.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: “Such lies are aimed at blaming the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history and thereby freeing the oppressors of the Jews from their responsibility… No war we are witnessing this era is comparable to the Holocaust and there is no war like this.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, responded by saying: “We have paid attention to the anti-historic statements of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, which largely explain the approach of the current Israeli government in favor of the neo-Nazi regime. in Kyiv.

Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben-Menahem told Arab News that Bennett and Lapid were trying to pressure Russia to bolster US President Joe Biden’s position against Iran and pave the way for the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem. -East. Biden plans to visit Israel and Palestine in June. However, he added that the Israeli authorities face a balancing act as they do not want to strain ties with Russia to the point of threatening their operations against Iranian elements in Syria.

“Bennett and Lapid are trying to escalate against Russia to win over Biden and assure him that Israel supports the US position on Ukraine,” Ben-Menahem said. “But at the same time, Israel does not want to achieve a break with Russia so as not to hinder the actions of the Israeli Air Force against Iranian targets in Syria.”

Israeli sources told Arab News that Lapid hates Russians and tries to be a supporter of democracy and human rights in Russia. By doing so, they added, he is trying to get closer to Biden and influence his policies.

Although tensions are rising in Russian-Israeli relations, the dispute has not yet reached the point of a diplomatic crisis. However, with Israeli officials insisting on a formal apology for Lavrov’s comment, it is difficult to predict how and when tensions will ease.

Relations between Russia and Israel are currently largely based on shared interests in Syria. Moscow supports President Bashar Assad and wants to stabilize his regime and help restore the country because it gives it the legitimacy to maintain Russian military bases there.

Israel respected these goals and did not target the Syrian regime. However, the option of attacking Assad’s palace was considered by the Israeli army chief more than two years ago because the Syrian president had allowed the Iranians to enter the country and carry out attacks there. military activities. As a result, the Iranians were seen as legitimate targets for Israeli air attacks, in coordination with the Russians, who did not oppose them.

Israeli experts told Arab News that if relations between Russia and Israel get even more complicated, the Israelis could bomb Syrian targets, which could weaken Assad and leave Moscow in the embarrassing position of not being able to protect an ally.

Ksenia Svetlova, a former member of the Knesset and a researcher at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Reichman University, told Arab News: “Russia should mind its own business. He has enough on his mind and there is no need to open another front with Israel, which has no intention of irritating anyone.

“However, it must stand, as a Jewish state, for the victims of the Holocaust and it is impossible to simply move on ignoring such horrific statements. Therefore, things will not return to normal unless there is an official apology from Russia.