"Good should have fists and be able to defend itself": Ukraine and Israel on the fronts of the information war

Ihor Solovei is the director of the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security. Ukraine's government authorizes this office to protect the country on the fronts of the information war, which has been waged by Russia against Ukraine worldwide for many years.

Solovei recently visited Israel to participate in events to commemorate the second anniversary of the start of full-scale Russian aggression organized by the NADAV Foundation and the NGO "Israeli Friends of Ukraine." Solovei shared his impressions from the visit in an interview with UJE.

"I understood that I was going from one warring country to another. I feel the nerve of Israel, which has been at war for a very long time. Unlike my visits to Israel before the tragic events of 7 October 2023, the general atmosphere was slightly different. Still, the spirit of war was felt as before. Previously, I was surprised to see people armed with automatic weapons, but not anymore, as we have a similar situation in Ukraine. I am not afraid of missile attacks as I'm used to even deadlier attacks in Ukraine than those in Israel," Solovei said.

His Israeli visit was packed with three to four interviews or meetings at the conference venue per day.

"Everyone was interested in Ukraine's experience, asking me, 'How have you managed to create such an image that the entire West supports Ukraine, while Israel is losing the information war in the West?' Coming from Israel, these kinds of observations flatter us and show the effectiveness of Ukraine's communication apparatus.

We in Ukraine constantly hold up Israel as an example of a country constantly waging a war for survival. We sometimes enviously refer to the example of Israel, which has a military censor by law, while we still lack a law on military censorship."

The Israelis have asked Solovei how the communication system is built inside Ukraine, wondering whether the Ukrainian setup can be tested in Israel. They are also interested in learning the methods Russian propaganda uses against Ukraine.

According to a KMIS survey conducted in December 2023, 69 percent of Ukrainians expressed support for Israel in its war against Hamas. Across the world, this was the highest recorded level of popular support for Israel. I asked Solovei for his explanation, and his answer boils down to four contributing factors.

  1. Israelis faced the same unprovoked, sudden, and extremely violent attack from outside on their state on 7 October 2023. In the minds of Ukrainians, this situation resonates with what Ukraine faced on 24 February 2022.
  2. The Hamas atrocities fully reminded Ukrainians of the atrocities committed by Russian troops near Kyiv and in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. The crimes of Hamas and the Russian army are comparable. These memories are still fresh in the minds of Ukrainians, which is why people draw very clear parallels, especially given that Hamas and Putin's Russia are great friends. Both in October 2023, shortly after the massacre of Israelis, and on 29 February 2024, the Russian Foreign Ministry received official delegations of the terrorist organization Hamas as its friends. Thus, for Ukrainians, the choice of siding with Israel in its war against Hamas was simply obvious.
  3. The Iranian factor. Iran, the enemy of Israel that wants to destroy the Jewish state through its proxies, is also firing at Ukraine. Iranian weapons are being used against both Ukraine and Israel, and awareness of this fact further strengthens the solidarity between Ukrainians and Israelis.
  4. Another factor is the proximity of the two nations. Both the 7 October tragedy and Israel's war to protect its citizens are happening to a nation that is not at all unfamiliar to Ukrainians. Jews and Ukrainians are very close for many reasons. A significant part of Israeli citizens are people from Ukraine. Many Ukrainian natives joined the IDF during mobilization, similar to how Israelis came to Ukraine to help Ukrainians defend their country.

Having these contacts — Ukrainians in Israel and Jews in Ukraine — has created a situation in which there is no need to read experts to get an impression of what is happening in the Middle East. All the information has spread by word of mouth. Human connections have worked as a human bridge between our peoples and countries.

Solovei has told the Israelis that he and his Center are open to joint projects and actions in the future.

"I don't know if Israeli government agencies will be interested, but civil society in Israel has a demand for cooperation with Ukraine. We are ready to share our knowledge and experience. For example, I'm starting to do joint podcasts with Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, INSS. We will exchange information with Israeli think tanks," he says.

In his opinion, Ukraine should not try to influence public opinion in Israel to increase aid for Ukraine: "We neither can nor want to influence Israeli society. It's an internal matter of each country. We are for the sovereign control of each state over its information space and against interference. We are not Russians who force public opinion one way or another. Our strength and advantage is that we speak the truth. The Russians produce expensive fakes that are short-lived. Meanwhile, the truth lasts."

Solovei sees great support for Ukraine in modern Israeli society, which has increased even more after 7 October: "Israel is transferring missile early warning systems to Ukraine. It's too bad this did not happen earlier, as we had asked. We see that the Russians fed their experience of waging a war in Ukraine to the Hamas terrorist groups, which employed it against Israel."

Tracking Russia's actions on the information war front, Solovei sees how Russian propaganda works inside Israel against Ukraine: "The rhetoric of Russian publications and cartoons promotes the idea that Ukraine should not be helped. Israeli experts and journalists have told me that some people came to Israeli media outlets offering money for publications aimed against Ukraine. After they refused, clones of their websites sprung up, disseminating anti-Ukrainian Hebrew- and English-language articles corrupted by Moscow. Preventing anyone from rallying around Ukraine is a classic goal of Russia's propaganda and its special services.

It is evident to me that our countries have the same enemy both on the battlefield and in the information space. For many years, we have underestimated the threats posed by our enemies. In the long run, we have learned the same lesson the Jews learned from the Holocaust period: if the enemy promises to kill you, you have to believe him.

We will surely win if we stick together and understand that good should have fists and be able to defend itself. Joining efforts is critical to the survival of our states, Ukraine and Israel."

Text: Shimon Briman (Israel)
Photo: Ihor Solovei (from personal archive)

Translated from the Ukrainian by Vasyl Starko.