Israel Bans Travel To Russia Citing Covid-19 Concerns As Biden Administration Distances From The Jewish State

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now representing around 17 percent of the Israeli population, Israel’s Russian speaking Jews and other Russian speakers have come a long way towards integration and holding an active part in Israel’s society, economy and politics. Credit: Kremlin.ru

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The Russian Federation was placed on a travel blacklist on Sunday and Israelis will not be able to travel to Russia from Monday until June 13 at the earliest, The Moscow Times reported.

Stating Russia remains a place where health risks from coronavirus remain high, the Israeli Ministry of Health has declared citizens can travel only with prior approval from a government agency.

The restriction could prove to be damaging to the extensive ties between both populations.

Forty-one percent of all immigrants living in Israel in 2017 were born in the Soviet Union and around 17 percent of Israel’s population is Russian-speaking; Russians and Russian-speakers represent a substantial voice in Israeli life and politics.

“We consider Israel a Russian-speaking country,” Vladimir Putin said at a Moscow conference on Sep. 17, 2019.

“Russians and Israelis have ties of family and friendship,” Putin said. “Our nations are united by common and often tragic pages in history.”

These “ties of family and friendship” date back to the post-Soviet Aliyah where over a million Russian Jews immigrated to Israel following the USSR’s last president, Mikhail Gorbachev’s easing of restrictions of Jews and other citizens from exiting the country.

While most of the post-Soviet Aliyah was made up of Jews coming from other parts of the USSR outside Russia proper, Israel had to absorb 20% of its population in new immigrants under its 1950s “Law of Return” which states all Jews can obtain rights to immigrate to Israel and undergo naturalization to become an Israeli citizen.

“Aliyah” denotes the return of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel.

This demographic has come a long way towards integration and holds an active part in Israel’s society, economy and politics.

Initially facing difficulty in finding employment and applying their varying skillsets following the influx of the 1980s and 1990s, “today, Russian speakers are disproportionately represented among the country’s politicians, doctors, high-tech engineers and computer scientists, math and science educators, and Olympic contenders,” Haaretz writes.

In contrast, modern-day Russia reflects the consequences of the historical pervasiveness of anti-Semitism which saw the mass exit of Russia’s jewish population. Today Jews only make up 0.16 percent of Russian society with approximately only 180,000 Jews living within Russia today.

Despite the travel restrictions, the Biden administration’s reversal of the Trump-era Abraham Accords — which saw the normalization of Arab-Israeli relationships — in favor of a restoration of funding to Palestine and a reintegration into the Iran Nuclear Deal, could see Israel deepening its alignment with Russia.

Considering Netanyahu could be forced to step down from power if the ‘change bloc’ wins in the upcoming Knesset confidence vote for the formation of Israel’s new government, the future of Israel’s relationship with both the US and Russia hinges on the results of the next week in Israeli politics.

Stating on Tuesday his intentions to defend Israel despite the outcome of recent talks in Vienna, between the US, other world powers and Iran over a possible reinstatement of the terms of the Iran Nuclear Deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Netanyahu demonstrated his willingness to undertake military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon even if that means threatening Israel’s relationship with the US.

At a ceremony on Tuesday for the swearing-in of the new Mossad Chief, David Barnea, the prime minister stated, “If we have to choose between friction with our great friend the U.S. and the elimination of this existential threat, the elimination of the threat will come first.”

While Washington has said that Israeli concerns will be taken into account as the US undergoes dialogue with Iran in Vienna, Netanyahu said, “I’ve told this to my friend for 40 years, Joe Biden, and I said to him, ‘With or without a deal, we will continue to do everything in our power to thwart the armament of Iran with nuclear weapons’… containment is not an option.”

The opposition stood against Netanyahu’s comment as Defense Minister and Chief of the centrist Blue and White party Benny Gantz stated, “the Biden administration is a true friend of Israel and Israel will have no better partner than the U.S. and if there are differences they will be solved in direct talks in closed rooms and not through defiant rhetoric that could harm Israel’s security.”

Following documents released by Israel purporting to detail Iran’s efforts towards “pursuing nuclear weapons,” President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 which saw a subsequent explosion in efforts by the Iranian regime towards the development of its nuclear weapons program.

An alleged Israeli operation to destroy the internal power system at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility earlier in April, 2021 demonstrated Israel’s commitment towards thwarting Iranian nuclear development as Israeli leadership believes the Biden Administration is casting aside Israeli concerns in their renegotiation of the JCPOA with Iran.

“Our [America’s] allies in the region know the regime the best – they don’t like what they are hearing from the Biden administration and are demonstrating their willingness to act independently for their own national security concerns,” senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, Mike Pregent, told the Jerusalem Post.

Although it is possible that the Biden administration’s reversal of the Abraham Accord’s and its seeming treatment of the Hamas terror group and the Israeli state as equals could push Israel towards a greater alignment with Russia, the Russian government’s close ties with the Iranian regime will serve to hamper any serious development of the Israeli-Russian relationship.

While Israel wants to see the US take Iran’s regional military actions into account while negotiating a reentry into the JCPOA, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stated Russia’s commitment to the exact opposite in a high-level meeting in Tehran on April 13, 2021.

“Any complementary or additional documents on different issues, including regional issues or military development, can be considered outside the framework of the JCPOA and with the participation of regional countries in order to ensure the safety of the region and the Persian Gulf,” Lavrov was quoted to have said during the meeting.

The meeting additionally saw discussion of Iranian and Russian economic cooperation, the import of Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines into Iran, defense and military cooperation, cultural cooperation, a resigning of the 2001 “comprehensive cooperation accord” and the signing of an “information security” cooperation agreement “that the Iranian foreign ministry called a turning point in joint cybersecurity work” between both nations.

“The Trump Administration turned the Middle East upside down when he bypassed the Palestinians and negotiated a deal with the UAE, Bahrain and other states. John Kerry and career diplomats said it was impossible. The Palestinians gambled and lost but would have come back to the table in a second Trump term. Instead, Biden has restored funding, and promised to re-enter negotiations using the same failed paradigm of the two state solution. In effect he has undone the genius negotiating conducted by the Trump Administration out of spite. He has restored the anti-Israel undertone that forced them to grow closer to Russia under Obama,” declared Brent Beecham, former IDF fighter pilot and co-founder of Tsionizm.com.

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