Russia’s Neighbors Seek Israeli Civil Defense Expertise

By Hamodia Staff

Downtown Tallinn, capital of Estonia, at sunset. (Khora)

YERUSHALAYIM – The Russian invasion of Ukraine has neighboring countries worried about their own vulnerabilities, and they are turning to Israel for its expertise in homeland security, The Times of Israel reported on Thursday.

While Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland rely chiefly on NATO for its military deterrent against potential Russian aggression, they have a need to fill in gaps in such areas as cybersecurity and emergency rescue and medical systems.

On Tuesday, Alon Bar, the Foreign Ministry’s political director, headed a delegation to Tallinn, in Estonia, for a meeting on the threat from Iran, among other issues. But Estonia’s Foreign Ministry stressed cooperation in cybersecurity.

A 2017 Russian cyber assault on Estonian banks, media outlets, parliament, and government ministries over a Soviet-era war memorial dispute made the country’s vulnerability manifest. NATO subsequently established its cyber defense center in Tallinn, but there is a sense that more needs to be done to protect sensitive infrastructure.

Also, Tauno Suurkivi, deputy director-general of Estonia’s rescue services, paid a visit last week to Israel’s Home Front Command.

“We are developing civil protection, building sirens, shelters,” he told The Times of Israel on Thursday before heading to the airport for his trip home. “Within the next one or two years, we have to build up those capabilities.”

Suurkivi was in Israel on a three-day trip organized by ELNET, an organization working to build ties between Israel and Europe. Nine other senior defense, law enforcement, health, and parliamentary officials from the Baltic states and Poland came with him.

Latvia currently has a declared emergency on its border, accusing Belarus of instigating  the crossing of Iraqi and Afghani refugees into its territory in retaliation for sanctions against Belarus’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists in 2020. Belarus has backed allied with Russia in its war in Ukraine, though it has not participated directly in any fighting.

Kols sees a parallel in Iran and Russia using other countries to threaten their enemies. “You don’t call Lebanon a sovereign country anymore.… Belarus is something of that sort as well.”

Marta Kubica, executive director of ELNET-Poland, attested to the intense interest in Israeli protective measures.

“Every single person came to me and said they want to work with Israel in one way or another,” she said, “and their reactions are very practical. They’re interested in specific Israeli innovations, infrastructure and standard operating procedures.”

The delegation met with the IDF Home Front Command, Yerushalayim’s chief of police, Foreign Ministry experts on Europe and cyber affairs, and learned about drone and optics solutions for border security at Israel Aerospace Industries.

The group — which included Latvia’s former health minister and Lithuania’s deputy health minister — also met with a range of Israeli health officials, including tours of Israel’s underground blood bank in Ramle and the COVID-19 operations center in Airport City, said the Times.

Polish participation in the visit indicated an easing of tensions between Yerushalayim and Warsaw after bitter controversy over Poland’s reparations policy and statements about its blameless role in the Holocaust, which Israel rejected as a rewriting of history. The presence of Polish Senator Wojciech Konieczny in the delegation was an important symbol, ELNET’s Kubica said. “Not only were they allowed to come, but they were well received by the Israeli side. This wouldn’t happen if the relations were still tense.”

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