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Linking Policies on Ukraine and Israel

Executive Summary

The wars in Ukraine and Israel are distinctly different in motivation, execution and character; and seem to be easier understood if viewed independently. One is a war of blatant conquest waged by an expansionist military (former) superpower seeking to reclaim it’s Glory Years against a newly democratic, sovereign state. The other is a defensive reaction of a sovereign state against non-state actors and terrorists.  However, European nations are not unified in their approaches to these conflicts.  It is unlikely that disagreements on how to deal with one crisis area will bleed over to the other and little material risk to international corporations doing business in Europe exists because of decisions by either Israel, Hamas or Hezbollah.

NATO and the EU:  Same nations, different policy approaches to conflict.

Except for Hungary[1], nations in Europe have uniformly supported Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression.  Both NATO and the European Union (EU) have pledged support to Ukraine, and most have followed through (with some delays).  Even recalcitrant Hungary finally agreed to a four-year 50 billion Euro aid package earlier this year despite months of protesting and resistance.[2]

In fact, the June 9th European Union Elections indicate growing support for more right of center policies such as support for Ukraine and getting a handle on what some think is runaway immigration.  Both France and Germany suffered political losses, prompting French President Macron to call for new national elections at the end of June.  Politics in Europe are moving to the right, with the center still holding a majority, but issues like climate change appear to be taking lower priority to economic growth and security.  A majority of Europeans see the need for policy change as Russia continues to present an existential threat to security of Europe in their relentless struggle to control Ukraine.

A Not So Unified Europe

Europe’s response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas was initially confused and unfocused. In the immediate aftermath of the massacre of Israeli civilians, the EU’s Commissioner for enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, unilaterally announced the EU would cut aid to the Palestinian Authority, initiating an argument with other Commissioners and public criticisms by member-states.  At the same time, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s unconditional support for Israel during her impromptu visit to the country, and her initial unwillingness to call on Israel to respect international humanitarian law contrasted sharply with the approach of other EU leaders and irked many, both in Brussels and in EU capitals.[3]

Last October, after 20 days of conflict, the UN voted on a resolution which called for a truce in Gaza (not a ceasefire).  Only eight EU states voted in favor, four were against and 15 nations abstained.  On December 12, 2023, the UN again voted, this time on a resolution calling for an “immediate Humanitarian ceasefire” and the unconditional release of all Israeli hostages.  Only 17 of 27 EU nations voted in favor with two against and eight abstentions.  The lack of uniformity is due mostly to the history of each nation with Israel and with Arab causes such as Palestinian independence.

For example, between 1948 and 1989 the USSR maintained close relations with Arab countries hostile to Israel, and Moscow’s satellites were forced to support the same policy in the Middle East.  The Czech Republic fell in line until the collapse of the USSR in 1989, at which time they returned to their historic support for Israel.  In 1947 Czechoslovakia was one of 33 countries to vote in favor of the UN partition resolution recommending the establishment of a Jewish state. Czechoslovak public support for Israel continued even after the Communist takeover in February 1948.[4]  This long-term relationship accounts for the CR voting against both resolutions.

On the other side, Spain’s relationship with post WW II Arab nations has been long standing.  Sitting between Europe and Africa, Spain worked hard to build relationships with many Arab nations and became a supporter of Palestinian statehood.  In fact, despite rather severe polarization between left and right in Spain, the pro-Palestinian viewpoint unites practically all political parties in Spain.  Thus, Spain voted for both UN resolutions.

Prior to the Hamas attack on Israel, many in Europe were unsure who they would support.  In Britian for example, five months before the attack, just under 50% of those responding to a YouGov poll were unsure which side they felt more sympathetic for.  After the attack that number dropped below 30% with support for Israel growing from 10% to 20% and support for Hamas dropping from 23% to 20%.  The biggest increase was for “both sides equally” which rose from 19% to 30% of the respondents.  In France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden support for Israel grew after the attacks with significant drops in “undecided”.  Italy showed very little growth in support for either side while many of the “undecided” shifted to support for “both”.  Interestingly, in Spain, support for Hamas was slowly dropping through the summer, falling from 30% to 20%, but after the attack, support for Hamas sharply rose to 38%.  Support for Israel in Spain did exactly the opposite, rising pre attack from 12% to over 20%, then dropping a few points by December to 19%.[5]

In each of the countries mentioned above, very few felt the Hamas attack on Israel was justified.  Overwhelmingly, between 64% and 80% of respondents in each nation felt Hamas was morally wrong.  However, they did not correspondingly believe Israel was justified in their response with numbers ranging from 18% to 35% in support of Israel’s invasion.  Overall, at the end of 2023 most Western Europeans believed Israel should stop operations and call for a ceasefire.[6]

Could disagreements over Israel’s conduct of the War affect NATO support for Ukraine?

It is highly unlikely that disagreements of this magnitude could bleed over from Israel’s war against Hamas to policy on Ukraine.  The EU has a strong history of members debating and disagreeing on policy within the Union, and in the UN, but in the end standing together on matters of substance.  In their support for the defense of Europe, that is to say, NATO, the members recognize the immediate threat to Ukraine is also the long-term threat to Europe and the alliance.  That is not to minimize the volume of the debate about Gaza.  In a recent interview with Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, European Union’s outgoing foreign-policy chief, remarked about both conflicts and the internal pressures that have resulted.

In the interview, Borrell discussed the facts.  He points out Ukraine was granted EU candidate status in record time. Without the war and their very challenging situation, candidate status would have taken much more time, if ever. Ukraine applied for EU membership on 28 February 2022, four days after it was invaded by Russia. The EU granted Ukraine candidate status in June that year and, in December 2023, EU leaders agreed to open accession negotiations. By contrast, Montenegro applied for EU membership in 2008 and officially started the accession process in June 2012.

The fast-tracked process shows European political will supports Ukraine, because the strongest security commitment the EU can offer to Ukraine without being a military alliance is membership. Borell states that the EU can supply arms to fight the war and financial support. The total amount of money the EU has provided to Ukraine is about 96 billion euro, which is more than the U.S. In his view, the most important thing the EU can offer to Ukraine is membership.  Ukraine’s position is unique:  they must fight two battles at the same time.  First the battle of rejecting Russian aggression, and secondarily the battle of instituting reforms that they must emplace in order to fulfill all the conditions to become an EU member. They must do both at the same time because EU accession is a merit-based process—in order to become a member, nations must fulfill certain conditions.  But also, Borell was honest about the debate:

“And many people around the world complain that what Israel is doing in Gaza, we would not accept Russia doing in Ukraine. This creates the accusation of double standards, and we have to be very careful because we can lose our credibility. That’s why we put pressure on Israel not to continue doing the military operation the way they have been doing, understanding very well their reaction to the terrorist attacks. For me, one horror doesn’t justify another, and what’s happening in Gaza is a horror.”[7]

What if Hezbollah opens a northern front against Israel?

In fact, Hezbollah has been escalating attacks against Israel for weeks.  In early May, Hezbollah’s responded to the Israeli incursion into Rafah.  A mid-afternoon attack by a drone carrying missiles came just days after Hezbollah launched three anti-tank guided missiles at an Israeli military post that controlled a surveillance balloon flying over the border.  Hours later, the Israeli military confirmed that the spy balloon had been shot down over Lebanon.  The night before, Hezbollah had carried out its deepest attack in Israel to date using explosive drones to strike at a base in Ilaniya near the city of Tiberias about 35 kilometers from the Lebanon border. The Israeli military said the attack did not hurt anyone.

Abdul-Sater, an analyst, had warned in May that the Iran-led coalition known as the axis of resistance, which includes the Palestinian militant group Hamas, might increase attacks.  The Axis had warned that if Israeli troops launch a full-scale invasion of Rafah in an attempt to go after Hamas, other fronts will also escalate.  In recent days, Israel has intensified covert strikes in Syria against weapons sites, supply routes and Iranian-linked commanders, ahead of a threatened full-scale assault on Hezbollah in Lebanon.[8]  Recall that in April Israel bombed the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed the top IRGC operations commander in the Levant. In retaliation, Iran fired some 300 missiles and drones at Israel, almost all of which were shot down. Israel then attacked Iranian territory with drones.

This direct confrontation, a first for the two countries, stopped there. Israel also briefly reduced the number of strikes it was carrying out against Iranian proxies.  Since that time weapons have continued to pour into the region through Syria from Tehran.  However, recent statements by the Israeli government indicate that opening a more aggressive operation against Hezbollah is not out of the question.  At this juncture, such an increase in military operations would not only stretch out the IDFs capabilities but give Hamas a reason to reject the peace plan recently passed by the UN.


The wars in Ukraine and Israel are distinctly different in motivation, execution and character but they are linked in several ways. One is a war of conquest waged by an authoritarian military superpower (-) seeking to reclaim its perceived status vis-à-vis the United States and NATO, against a newly democratic, sovereign state. The other is a defensive reaction by a sovereign state against non-state actors and terrorists.  They are linked by the fact that they are supported by democratic states who believe in the defense of democratic ideals and values.  Although Israeli conduct of the war is wearing their support thin, they still have the backing of many nations including the US.  That level of patience may pay off as the US has worked recently for a UN Security council approved agreement that the Israeli government appears to have reluctantly accepted.  Hamas is currently sending mixed signals on their acceptance of the latest proposal, in part because of the disconnect they see between what they say they received and public statements from President Biden on the substance of the proposal.

At the end of the day, the possibility of some nations linking support for Ukraine to Israel’s conduct in Gaza is low.  The basic reason is fundamental to both the NATO charter and the EU constitution:  Friends can disagree and still be friends.  Given the Russian threat to NATO if Ukraine is abandoned, disagreements on Israeli conduct of the war will likely remain disagreements among friends. If Israel opens a northern front against Hezbollah, it will likely result in defeating any ceasefire with Hamas and cause some European nations, already negative about Israel’s conduct of the conflict, to call for more international pressure on Israel to stop all fighting.  In any event, there does not seem to be any material risk to international corporations doing business in Europe because of decisions by either Israel, Hamas or Hezbollah.  Any future actions by European nations will be based on actions by Israel and Hamas, without affecting the NATO Alliance and defending Europe from future threats.

[1] See:

[2] See:

[3] See:

[4] See:

[5] See:

[6] Ibid.

[7] See:

[8] See:


Learn more about the author, Advisory Board member and retired U.S. Air Force Major General Michael Snodgrass