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Lindsey Graham blasts Israel's new government for vowing to ‘stay quiet’ on Ukraine war

The Republican heavyweight is a vocal supporter of Israel and is seen as closely aligned with Benjamin Netanyahu
US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks as Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) listens during a news conference at US Capitol in Washington, DC, on 29 September 2022 (AFP)

Top Republican Senator Lindsey Graham slammed statements made by Israel's new Foreign Minister Eli Cohen suggesting Israel would step back from denouncing Russia publicly over its invasion of Ukraine.

"The idea that Israel should speak less about Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine is a bit unnerving,” Graham, who is a strong supporter of Israel and seen as close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted.

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The post was in response to Cohen’s announcement that he would be talking to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday. Cohen indicated that Netanyahu’s new government would avoid wading into the Ukraine war, telling Israeli diplomats, “one thing for certain is that we will talk less about it in public”.

Graham is one of the Republican Party's foremost hawks and pro-Israel advocates. He was aligned with Netanyahu on supporting a withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and regularly backs US military aid to Israel. 

It’s unclear how much Israeli policy on Ukraine will actually change under Netanyahu.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tried to take a lead in mediating an end to the Ukraine war in its early days, meeting with Putin shortly after Russia launched its invasion. His successor, Yair Lapid, openly condemned Russia’s strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets.

Skies of Syria

Despite its public comments, Israel’s previous government regularly rebuffed Ukraine’s pleas for military support. Like other Middle Eastern countries, it did not join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia. Cohen said humanitarian aid to Ukraine will continue.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to welcome Netanyahu back to power. A statement from the Kremlin on Thursday said Putin sent a message promising to strengthen Russian-Israeli cooperation.

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Israel has publicly defended its position on the war in Ukraine as necessary to maintain freedom of action in the skies of Syria to bomb Iranian assets.

During his previous tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu forged an agreement with Putin to coordinate Israeli and Russian military actions over Syria.

That deal has largely held, and Russia, despite maintaining an air defence system in Syria, has allowed Israel to target Iranian assets in the country at will.

Israel's new government is the most right-wing in its history, prompting concerns in Washington and Arab states about the potential for flaring tensions.

On Monday, a White House official said US President Joe Biden would dispatch his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, to Israel to meet with the new government.  

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