Iran agrees to sell Moscow short-range ballistic missiles

As Russia turns to Iranian-made drones, Kyiv to request Israeli air defense help

Foreign Minister Kuleba says Ukraine will submit formal letter after months of Israeli refusal, days before he and Lapid slated to speak via phone

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gives a press conference, after meeting with his Russian counterpart for talks in Antalya, Turkey, on March 10, 2022. (AFP)
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gives a press conference, after meeting with his Russian counterpart for talks in Antalya, Turkey, on March 10, 2022. (AFP)

A day after Moscow attacked energy and infrastructure sites across Ukraine with “kamikaze” drones, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country plans to submit a formal request to Israel asking for immediate air defense assistance.

The request is unlikely to bring about any change in Israeli policies on its approach to the ongoing war.

Since the early days of the invasion, senior Ukrainian officials have asked Israel to send its missile defense systems, especially the Iron Dome, in public addresses and in private conversations with decision-makers in Jerusalem.

Israel has repeatedly rebuffed Kyiv’s requests for defensive weapons, specifically the missile defense systems that could be used to fend off Russian airstrikes, despite expressing sympathy for the country’s plight.

Last Thursday, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk expressed his dismay that Israel has not reconsidered its stance on the war despite seven months of requests.

“They tell us they are considering the possibility, but they are a democratic country and the decision has been taken by the defense cabinet,” he said.

The wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine, September 13, 2022. (Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate via AP)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Kuleba are slated to speak by phone on Thursday, according to several Hebrew media reports.

Kuleba also said Tuesday that he had suggested to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Kyiv break off diplomatic ties with Iran, after Moscow attacked Ukraine with what are believed to be the Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone.

“Given the amount of destruction Iranian drones have caused to Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, the deaths and injuries caused to our people, as well as… the possible continuation of Iran’s supply of weapons to Russia, I submitted a proposal to break off diplomatic ties with Iran to the Ukrainian president,” Kuleba said in a Facebook video.

The Kremlin said Tuesday it has no knowledge of its army using Iranian drones in Ukraine.

Firefighters work after a drone fired on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Iran has denied exporting any weapons to either side, but the United States warned it would take action against companies and nations working with Tehran’s drone program following the strikes in Kyiv.

The delta-wing Shahed drone has previously been used in Yemen and in a deadly oil tanker attack last year, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

And while its range is about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), drone expert Samuel Bendett with the CNA think tank said, the Shahed is being used in Ukraine at much shorter ranges. That’s because its GPS guidance system — which is vulnerable to jamming — isn’t very robust.

Because they are cheap and plentiful, Russia has increasingly used Shaheds over Ukraine. Their use allows Russia to avoid putting sophisticated aircraft and pilots at risk and save its limited stock of expensive long-range precision missiles.

In Monday’s attack on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said 28 drones made up waves of successive attacks. Fired from a truck launcher in rapid succession, the drones can fly low and slow, better able to avoid radar detection.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gives a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, on March 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Iran agreed to sell Moscow Fateh 110 and Zolfaghar short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

Ukrainian officials expected Israel’s position to shift on several occasions, including after revelations of Russian war crimes in Bucha and Irpin, and when Russia began deploying the Iranian drones.

“Iran is our mutual enemy,” said Korniychuk, “but Israel is providing only very limited intelligence cooperation.”

Colonel Viktor Kevliuk, who retired in 2020 from Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operational HQ and is now a scholar at Kyiv’s Centre for Defence Strategies, told The Times of Israel that Israel’s mid-range David’s Sling system would improve Ukraine’s defense against Russian Iskander ballistic missiles.

He also pointed at the Barak-8 system as a potential solution to defending Ukraine’s ships and coastline.

The joint Israeli-Indian Barak-8 system is designed to protect against a range of threats, including ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and enemy aircraft. It is currently in use by Israel, India and Azerbaijan.

Zelensky said Tuesday that Russian strikes had destroyed about 30 percent of his country’s power stations in one week, speaking hours after a fresh barrage cut electricity to cities across Ukraine.

Russian attacks rocked energy facilities in Kyiv and urban centers across the country, causing blackouts and disrupting water supplies.

The strikes in the early hours of Tuesday hit Kyiv, Kharkiv in the east, Mykolaiv in the south and central regions of Dnipro and Zhytomyr, where officials said hospitals were running on backup generators.

Zelensky earlier said the fresh wave of nationwide strikes — which he said had damaged a residential building and flower market in Mykolaiv — was a Russian attempt to “terrorize and kill civilians.”

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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