Israel and the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
“For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle … Then shall Jehovah go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle” (Zechariah 14:2,3). (This article was written in late February. Time sensitive material regarding the conflict in Ukraine may have changed. All scriptures from the RVIC.)
In 2021, over 100,000 Russian military forces amassed on Ukraine’s border. Russia’s follow-up invasion in February 2022 resulted in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett advising Israelis in Ukraine to come home and all Ukrainian Jews in Ukraine to come to Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced, “Israel has deep, long lasting, and good relations with Russia and with Ukraine. There are tens of thousands of Israelis in both countries, and there are hundreds of thousands of Jews in both countries. Maintaining their security and safety is at the top of our considerations” (The Jewish Virtual Library counts 43,000 Jews living in the Ukraine, although the Foreign Ministry suggests significantly more. See below.)
Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to oversee a “demilitarization and de-Nazification” of the Ukraine, which led Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, himself Jewish, to respond, “How can I be a Nazi? Explain it to my grandfather, who went through the entire war in the infantry of the Soviet army, and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine.” The Ukrainian president has said that three of his grandfather’s brothers were killed in the Holocaust.
Pnina Tameno Shete, Israeli Minister of Aliyah and Integration, is preparing for an influx of immigrants in the “thousands or tens of thousands.” Ukraine had one of the largest Jewish populations prior to World War II. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, between 900,000 and 1.6 million were murdered during the Nazi regime. In 1959, the Jewish population numbered about 840,000, declining to about 487,000 by 1989. When Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the Jewish Foreign Ministry welcomed 19,000 Jews fleeing the country. Today, Israel’s Ukrainian Jewish population is about 500,000 according to the Atlantic Council.
Russia and the Middle East
Israel has maintained relations with Russia, but that relationship has been tenuous. Under Putin, a former KGB operative, Russia has increased its presence in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. According to the Middle East Eye, when Israel expressed support for Ukrainian independence, Russia condemned Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights. Russian supplied missile systems and other defense technology have thwarted Israeli jets seeking Iranian military targets in Syria. If airspace were to be restricted — crucial to the Israeli effort to prevent Iranian aggression — Iran could freely supply terrorist groups such as Hezbollah with advanced weaponry.
In early February, U.S. President Biden announced that a Special Forces raid in northern Syria had successfully killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, leader of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS). Among world powers, the United States continues to have the most capable military forces in the region but has been reluctant to employ those forces. With a new focus on Asia, particularly China, U.S. leaders have made defense of Israel a lesser priority.
As a result, Iran has renewed its focus on the region, providing drones, rockets, missiles, military training and support to militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian areas. Tehran has also stepped up proxy attacks through terrorist groups on Saudi Arabia and the UAE. According to a February report, an Iranian military exercise called “Great Prophet 17” showcased the potentially devastating response to any aggression by Western or Israeli forces in preventing nuclear capabilities.
Israel continues to seek regional partnerships to buttress its security, such as the Abrahamic Accords1 The government recently finalized agreements to export gas to Egypt and Jordan, and has joined the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which includes the countries of Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy and Jordan as well as the Palestinian Authority. In November 2021, Israel announced an energy-for-water partnership with Jordan and the UAE. Recently, Turkey announced it is exploring the possibility of a new arrangement with Israel for natural gas.
(1) See Today in Prophecy, The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, November/December 2020.
God’s Promise to Israel
The reestablishment of Israel in the land promised to Abraham is one of the most important fulfillments of prophecy in these times. It confirms the words of the Biblical prophets. In Genesis 28:12-14, Jacob’s vision of a ladder extending between heaven and earth contained the everlasting and irrevocable promise: “I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the ground be blessed.”
God has already regathered Israel to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jeremiah told of an everlasting covenant that God would make with the returned people (Jeremiah 32:40,41). Amos verified that the descendants of Abraham would never again be removed from the land, testifying to the miraculous deliverances seen there since the first settlement at Petah Tikvah in 1878 (Amos 9:14,15).
During this time, the entire world would experience a similar time of travail: “The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2,3). During this time, the regathered nation of Israel would survive while other nations fall. The events we see unfolding today show that Israel cannot always depend on allies for protection. Alliances with its neighbors will eventually demonstrate this as well. Israel will stand in need of Divine help when the climactic point in man’s history, the invasion of “Gog and Magog,” takes place. This battle is recorded in Ezekiel 38 as an attack upon Jerusalem. Nations in former alliances will not be able to help or will look for benefits from such an invasion (Ezekiel 38:12-14). When the situation appears hopeless, Jehovah Himself will intervene. The defeat of Gog and Magog in Israel will decisively display the power of Jehovah: “Thou wilt make them as a fiery furnace … Jehovah will swallow them up in his wrath, And the fire shall devour them” (Psalms 21:9).
As our theme text describes, in ancient days when Israel became unfaithful, enemies were sent to chastise them. The people would cry out and God would send a prophet to both turn them back to Jehovah and deliver them. When all seems hopeless, miraculous events will take place. The Ancient Worthies, Abraham, Moses, and perhaps David, their greatest king, will rise to positions of leadership (Psalms 45:16, Isaiah 1:26). They will urge dependence on Jehovah for the victory. God will be magnified and sanctified as Israel’s enemies are defeated (Ezekiel 38:16). Israel will then recognize their true Messiah and Jehovah will pour out His spirit upon them. “I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son … as one that is in bitterness for the firstborn” (Zechariah 12:9,10).
Before this stage of history, Christ’s bride must be completed in glory. The subsequent deliverance of Israel will be a testimony not only to Israel, but to earth’s billions. The people of all nations which came against Jerusalem will go up to that city to acknowledge and worship Him who brings peace and blessings to the resurrected world of mankind (Zechariah 14:16-19). Let us who hope to be part of the blessing of these billions be faithful to our covenant and look forward to the blessings which will follow!