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Israel's Ukraine dilemma? – DW – 10/21/2022

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Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dimytro Kuleba, said that shortly after it was reported that Russia had used Iranian-supplied Shahed-136 drones to attack Kiev, it would make a formal request to Israel for air defense supplies. This will not be Ukraine’s first request for military support from Israel.

Israel has so far formally refrained from arming Ukraine and instead offered humanitarian support and other supplies such as helmets and protective vests. Iran has refused to supply unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Russia.

Ukrainian rescuers in blue helmets and protective gear drive through the rubble of a residential building hit by a Russian drone
US intelligence has confirmed that Russia has used Iranian military drones in its war against Ukraine.Picture: Oleksii Chumachenko/ZUMA/IMAGO

But the latest development, now involving Israel’s arch-enemy Iran, has once again highlighted Israel’s dilemma over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It also sparked a new debate over whether Israel should continue the balancing act.

Although Israel has at times sharply criticized the Russian occupation and increasingly supported Ukraine, it has stopped providing direct military support so as not to damage its ties with Moscow.

In a phone call with Ukrainian foreign minister Kuleba on Thursday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid confirmed that he received up-to-date information on the war and that Israel “stands with the Ukrainian people”. But he did not mention the official request of Ukraine for air defense systems.

“Early warning system” offer, but no policy change

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz stands behind a podium
Israel offers to help Ukraine develop ‘life-saving early warning system’Image: Ariel Hermoni/MOD

“Israel supports and stands by Ukraine, NATO and the West,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz told European Union ambassadors at a briefing on Wednesday. This is something we have said in the past and are repeating today. Israel has a policy of supporting Ukraine with humanitarian aid and life-saving defense equipment.”

However, Gantz added that Israel “will not deliver weapons systems to Ukraine due to various operational concerns”. As in the past, we will continue to support Ukraine within our borders.” Instead, he said Israel would “help develop a life-saving early warning system.”

A military drone seen against a blue sky over Kyiv, Ukraine
Amos Yadlin said Iran’s Shahed drones are “easy targets, flying at low altitude and at slow speed.”Image: Efrem Lukatsky/AP/image alliance

Israel’s current policy is also discussed by analysts. “Israel continued to move in a way that resulted in it getting the short end of the stick in both directions,” Israeli journalist Nadav Eyal told the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Tuesday. “The Ukrainians are angry about this because they can’t help; the Russians are using Iran’s help and at the same time helping the Iranians – and they’re operating against Israel in several different areas.”

Some observers think Israel should be more concerned about the closer relations between Russia and Iran and the use of Iranian drones in Ukraine.

“We must be where our values ​​are: democratic countries in Europe and the United States oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine,” says retired general Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israel’s Defense Intelligence.

He has long argued that Israel should be more active in supporting Ukraine. “Iran is our archenemy. And whenever Iran is on one’s side, Israel must be on the other side.”

Security and diplomatic considerations

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, Israel has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine while maintaining reasonable relations with Russia. Although there is a debate in Israel about the moral foundations of helping people in need, as well as hosting new immigrants fleeing from Russia and Ukraine, Israel is driven by its own political and diplomatic considerations: Russia’s main concern it seems to be.

In the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel saw an influx of more than a million Jews from Russia. More than 20,000 Russians have traveled to Israel this year, many of whom are young men seeking to escape conscription.

Recently, the threat of a “court case” to shut down the Jewish Agency semi-government agency that helps Jews immigrate to Israel It made the oppression of Russian Jews even more visible.

geopolitical concerns

Israel’s reluctance to supply weapons to Ukraine stems from its own security concerns, closer to the country. Russia has controlled most of Syria’s airspace since it entered the Syrian civil war to aid the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Israel regularly launches airstrikes on targets it describes as Iranian targets, and Iran’s proxy transfers weapons to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Close military coordination, or a “anti-conflict mechanism” by which Israel alerts Russia of impending airstrikes, gives the Israeli military the much-needed “freedom of action” to carry out such attacks.

An Israeli soldier takes cover as he launches an Iron Dome air defense system to intercept a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip
Israel fears advanced Iron Dome technology falling into the wrong handsImage: Ariel Schalit/AP Photo/image alliance

Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly requested defense systems such as the Iron Dome, David Sling or Barak 3 defense system. But security analysts believe Israel doesn’t have enough of the Iron Dome, given the security threats it faces in the region.

Additionally, the Iron Dome is considered “top secret technology and you don’t want it falling into the hands of the Iranians currently in Crimea. [in the hands of] The Russians,” says Amos Yadlin, former director of the Israel Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

The good news is that Iranian drones are easy targets, they fly at low altitude and at low speed, and you can really help Ukraine with less advanced air defense systems that Israel is already selling to other countries.”

A battery of Israel's Iron Dome defense missile system with the silhouette of a soldier in the left foreground
Israel’s reluctance stems from its own security concernsImage: Ariel Schalit/AP Photo/image alliance

For now, Israel seems determined to continue on its delicate course. “We are following Iran’s involvement in the war in Ukraine. We see that Iran is providing drones and may also provide additional advanced systems in the near future,” Defense Minister Gantz said on Wednesday. said.

He added that Iran is already involved in “Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and other places”. He said Israel will “continue to develop and protect its capabilities”.

Edited by: Lucy James