Natan Sharansky
Natan SharanskyHillel Meir/TPS

Natan Sharansky, a former Prisoner of Zion as well as a former deputy Prime Minister, has expressed his disappointment at the line the current Israeli government is taking with regard to the war in Ukraine.

In an interview with Israel Hayom, Sharansky said he believes that Israeli leaders were mistaken in believing they could remain neutral. "Everyone knows that we have our own interests vis-a-vis both Russia and Ukraine," he said, "but all the same, from day one, we should have made it abundantly clear that Russia's attack is unjustified and that the harm this is causing to the civilian population is unacceptable."

Sharansky stressed that his point of view is not solely based on what is the "moral" approach to take, but is also motivated by Israel's political interests, which, he said, would have been better served by taking a firmer line with Russia. In his opinion, Ukraine will, in future, become a more significant player on the world stage, and therefore it would be prudent for Israel to behave in a manner that Ukraine will later recall favorably. "We should not have reached the stage where the Ukrainians are begging us to send them a field hospital, Israel prevaricates and makes vague promises for an entire week - and then the Finance Minister says he doesn't have the funds available," Sharansky said.

The former minister recalled how he acted when in government under Prime Minister Netanyahu during his first term in office, when Israel managed to convince Ukraine not to sell turbines to Iran for use in its nuclear program. "Russia refused to listen to our concerns," he related, "but with Ukraine, we succeeded in persuading the then-President, President Kuchma, to breach his promise to the Iranians and not sell them the turbines they were seeking for their nuclear power station."

Sharansky laid the blame for the current situation at the door of the United States, and primarily with former President Obama, for leading Russian President Putin to conclude that he could blackmail the rest of the world and Israel in particular. "Due to Obama's weakness - due to the weakness of the Western world, in fact - Russia gained the keys to Syria, and the Iranians gained billions of dollars. Today, the weakness of the West is blatantly obvious to any observer. Everyone's afraid to confront Putin."

Furthermore, he added, "Putin has upped the stakes lately, and now he is hinting at the threat of a nuclear war. And how did the West respond? They cancelled their annual trial of an intercontinental ballistic missile that is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Western governments were apparently convinced that taking this step would prevent the stakes from rising still further, but in Putin's interpretation, this was simply a sign of weakness. When I was in a Soviet prison, I learned very quickly who was boss of the cell. It wasn't necessarily the strongest person - it was the person who was ready to use force at any instant, and even to kill, if he thought it necessary. That's who Putin is, and instead of deterring him, the West is simply encouraging him," he concluded.