In a rare rebuke, Britain expressed dissatisfaction with the Israeli condemnation of the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy on British soil earlier this month.
“We expect strong statements of support from all our close partners, Israel included,” the British embassy in Israel said on Tuesday, indicating that the Israeli statement had fallen short of that.
The Israeli statement, released a day after Britain specifically requested it join other allies in an official condemnation of Russian violation of British sovereignty, was conspicuously devoid of any mention of the culprit in the Kremlin.
“Israel views with gravity the event which took place in Great Britain and condemns it vigorously,” the statement said. “We hope that the international community will cooperate in order to avoid such further events.”
The deliberate vagueness of Israel’s condemnation was attributed to its positive but delicate relations with Russia, which does not take diplomatic slights lightly. Russia plays a pivotal role in Syria, where developments could have grave ramifications for Israeli security, and Yerushalayim wants to keep those relations with Moscow positive.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu congratulated newly re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, hailing the two leaders’ “trust and understanding,” and notably refraining from any criticism of the election process, as many western officials did.
“Mr. President, please accept my sincere congratulations for your victory in yesterday’s elections,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter sent to Putin, his office said.
“I deeply appreciate the personal dialogue between us, and I look forward to continuing to closely work together, in the spirit of the trust and understanding between us, to promote the vital interests of our countries,” he added.
The congratulatory message put Israel on the side of uncritical well-wishers like Syria, China and Turkey.
By contrast, the European Union said, “We expect Russia to address the violations and shortcomings,” in the elections.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Putin while noting that Berlin and Moscow have “differences in opinion” on issues ranging from Russian politics to the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
“Nevertheless, the continuous contact with Russia’s leadership is very important to us.”
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was less circumspect, saying: “We certainly cannot talk in all respects about a fair political contest as we know it,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the election also took place in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine four years ago in breach of international law.
“In this respect, we assume that Russia will remain a difficult partner.”