By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM -A jet suspected to be used by sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich was in Israel on Monday, but the foreign minister said the country was not a haven for Russian businessmen subject to international asset freezes over the invasion of Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel’s financial, banking and aviation authorities were coordinating on the issue.
“Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries,” Lapid said in a statement during a visit to Slovakia, which borders Ukraine.
A person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters a plane used by Russian billionaire Abramovich flew into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Sunday, confirming reports in Israeli media.
The foreign ministry statement did not mention the jet. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the plane.
Reuters could not immediately establish whether Abramovich, who also holds Israeli and Portuguese citizenship, had been aboard. The plane was due to leave Israel later on Monday, the source said.
The arrival of the aircraft was a sign of the fine line that Israel has been walking in its relations with Russia – a powerbroker in neighbouring Syria.
The billionaire, owner of Britain’s Chelsea soccer club, was among seven oligarchs added to the British sanctions list on Thursday in a bid to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich has denied having close ties to Putin.
A British transport ministry source said on Friday that Britain was searching out helicopters and jets belonging to the sanctioned oligarchs.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 on Friday, Victoria Nuland, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said Washington was asking Israel to join in financial and export sanctions against Russia.
Lapid did not say directly whether Israel was considering its own sanctions. But he said the foreign ministry was “coordinating the issue together with partners including the Bank of Israel, the Finance Ministry, the Economy Ministry, the Airports Authority, the Energy Ministry, and others”.
Asked for further details, the Bank of Israel said in a statement to Reuters that it was “constantly monitoring developments in the payments systems, the markets, and the financial system.”
Any Israeli sanctions could complicate efforts by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to mediate the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. He held talks in Moscow with Putin on March 5 and has spoken several times by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“There is no justification for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and there is no justification whatsoever for attacks on a civilian population,” said Lapid, who has been one of the most outspoken cabinet members in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a further bid to prevent Russian oligarchs from evading foreign sanctions, Israel this month restricted the time private jets can park to no more than 24 hours.
With public sympathy for Ukraine strong in Israel, the country’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem said on Thursday that it had suspended a strategic partnership with Abramovich, after Britain’s move against him.