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Israel’s Unsurprising Response to Crimean Annexation

Ha’aretzreports that the Obama administration is annoyed that Israel puts its own interests first:

White House and State Department officials in Washington have built up a great deal of anger over Jerusalem’s “neutrality” regarding Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. Senior figures in the Obama administration have expressed great disappointment with the lack of support from Israel for the American position on the Ukraine crisis and with the fact that the Israeli government puts its relations with the United States and with Russia on the same plane.

The U.S. doesn’t have to be happy that Israel isn’t taking the anti-Russian line that it wants on Ukraine, but it is a little odd that anyone in Washington expected a significantly different response. The administration is free to be disappointed with Israel’s reaction to the annexation of Crimea, but no one should have been surprised by it. This is hardly the only example of how dysfunctional this patron-client relationship has become, but it is an instructive one.

Even if it weren’t the case that Russian-Israeli relations have become much stronger in recent years, it would be odd for Israel to condemn another state for laying claim to territory outside its recognized borders. Like many other states that don’t want to rile Russia over matters that don’t directly concern them, Israel isn’t going out on a limb to uphold a principle that it doesn’t take seriously. Even if a significant number of the current government’s supporters weren’t Russian-speakers with connections to Russia and other former Soviet republics, Israel has no particular interest in upholding the sanctity of other states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Israel has violated both on more than a few occasions over the decades and reserves the right to do so in the future, so why exactly is it going to denounce Russia for doing things that are in some ways less egregious than its own past actions? Israel stands to gain nothing by antagonizing Russia on this issue, and it knows that risks nothing by disappointing Washington. Besides, the U.S. isn’t obliged to agree with Israel on how best to address Iran’s nuclear program, and has correctly pursued the current diplomatic course over Israeli objections. Why would we expect Israel to line up with the U.S. on an issue that matters even less to Washington? We shouldn’t, so why are so many people in the administration oblivious to this?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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