Israel Asserts No Change Policy on Ukrainian War Following US Warnings

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (File photo: Reuters)
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (File photo: Reuters)
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Israel Asserts No Change Policy on Ukrainian War Following US Warnings

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (File photo: Reuters)
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (File photo: Reuters)

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen discussed bilateral relations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and regional and international issues, including the war in Ukraine.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Lavrov called Cohen to congratulate him on his new role.

Cohen referred extensively to the Jewish community in Russia and former Soviet immigrants in Israel and their importance to relations between the countries.

For its part, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Lavrov congratulated his Israeli counterpart on his post and expressed his readiness to work to strengthen cooperation between Russia and Israel.

It stated that the Palestinian-Israeli settlement was discussed during the phone call, adding that Lavrov reiterated Russia's willingness to be involved in the peace process with Palestine based on international law.

In a briefing to Israeli media, a senior Israeli official confirmed that Cohen and Lavrov discussed the Russian war in Ukraine.

Cohen conveyed to his Russian counterpart a message from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, stressing that there was "no change in Israeli policy" in this regard.

The Israeli minister stressed that Israel's aid to Ukraine would continue, noting that while additional details of Israel's policy on the matter were still being crafted, "one thing for certain is that we will talk less about it in public."

He added that the ministry would prepare a detailed memorandum that would constitute a basis for researching the cabinet for political and security affairs to formulate a responsible policy.

After these statements, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one Israel's strongest supporters in US Congress, slammed Cohen.

Graham tweeted that the new Israeli foreign minister prioritized the US-Israel strategic relationship and supported continued humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

"However, the idea that Israel should speak less about Russia's criminal invasion of Ukraine is a bit unnerving. I hope Mr. Cohen understands that when he speaks to Russia's Lavrov, he's speaking to a representative of a war criminal regime that commits war crimes on an industrial scale daily."

A senior Israeli political official said that Cohen briefed Blinken about the conversation that would take place with Lavrov.

Blinken requested that Cohen convey US messages to Lavrov.

According to the Ynet website, Graham's statements constitute a blow to Cohen and that there was a consensus between Republicans and Democrats on the Russian issue.

If Israeli policy changes to a more supportive approach to Russia, it could damage Jerusalem's standing in Washington.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett refrained from condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, the head of the interim government, Yair Lapid, approached the US position more and did not contact any Russian official. Netanyahu likely intends to return to a position closer to Russia.



US Renews Warning It’s Obligated to Defend the Philippines after Its New Clash with China at Sea

A dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre sits at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP)
A dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre sits at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP)
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US Renews Warning It’s Obligated to Defend the Philippines after Its New Clash with China at Sea

A dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre sits at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP)
A dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre sits at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP)

The United States renewed a warning Tuesday that it’s obligated to defend its close treaty ally a day after Filipino navy personnel were injured and their supply boats damaged in one of the most serious confrontations between the Philippines and China in a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, officials said.

China and the Philippines blamed each other for instigating Monday’s hostilities in the Second Thomas Shoal, which has been occupied by a small Filipino navy contingent aboard a grounded warship that's been closely watched by Chinese coast guard, navy and suspected militia ships in a yearslong territorial standoff. There is fear the disputes, long regarded as an Asian flashpoint, could escalate and pit the United States and China in a larger conflict.

US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell discussed China's actions with Philippine counterpart, Maria Theresa Lazaro, in a telephone call. Both agreed that China’s “dangerous actions threatened regional peace and stability,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Campbell reaffirmed that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates Washington and Manila to help defend the other in major conflicts, “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its coast guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” according to Miller.

A Philippine government task force overseeing the territorial disputes condemned what it said were “dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing,” which disrupted a routine effort to transport food, water and other supplies to the Filipinos manning the territorial outpost aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal.

“Despite the illegal, aggressive, and reckless actions by the Chinese maritime forces, our personnel showed restraint and professionalism, refrained from escalating the tension, and carried on with their mission,” the Philippine task force said without elaborating. “Their actions put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats in blatant violation of international law.”

The Chinese coast guard said the Philippines “is entirely responsible for this.” It said a Philippine vessel “ignored China’s repeated solemn warnings ... and dangerously approached a Chinese vessel in normal navigation in an unprofessional manner, resulting in a collision."

Two speedboats — attempting to deliver construction materials and other supplies to a military vessel stationed at the shoal — accompanied the supply ship, according to China’s Foreign Ministry, which described its coast guard’s maneuver as “professional, restrained, reasonable and lawful."

Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Monday night that his country’s armed forces would resist “China’s dangerous and reckless behavior,” which “contravenes their statements of good faith and decency."

“We will exert our utmost in order to fulfill our sworn mandate to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty, and sovereign rights,” Teodoro said. “It should now be clear to the international community that China’s actions are the true obstacles to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Several incidents have happened in recent months near the shoal which lies less than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the nearest Philippines coast and where it maintains the Sierra Madre, which had become encrusted with rust since it was deliberately grounded in 1999 but remains an actively commissioned military vessel, meaning an attack on it could be considered by the Philippines as an act of war.

China has increasingly become assertive in pressing its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, which has led to a rising number of direct conflicts with other countries in the region, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam.

A new law by China, which took effect Saturday, authorizes its coast guard to seize foreign ships “that illegally enter China’s territorial waters” and to detain foreign crews for up to 60 days. The law renewed a reference to 2021 legislation that says China’s coast guard can fire upon foreign ships if necessary.

At least three coastal governments with claims to the waters — the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan — have said they would not recognize the law. Malaysia and Brunei are also involved in the long-seething territorial disputes, which are regarded as a delicate fault line in the longstanding US-China rivalry in the region.