Analysis'We can't win the war with bandages and pharmaceuticals'

As West works on Ukraine missile defense needs, Israel shows no sign of pitching in

Jerusalem has repeatedly rebuffed calls for sending Iron Dome to Kyiv since war began; Ukraine’s envoy laments lack of cooperation against ‘common enemy’ Iran

Lazar Berman

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

The Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interceptor missile towards rockets launched by terror groups from the Gaza Strip into Israel, over the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, during Operation Guardian of the Walls, May 16, 2021. (Avi Roccah/Flash90)
The Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interceptor missile towards rockets launched by terror groups from the Gaza Strip into Israel, over the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, during Operation Guardian of the Walls, May 16, 2021. (Avi Roccah/Flash90)

As the United States presses allies, including Israel, to hastily build for Ukraine a patchwork air defense network, there does not appear to be any change in the Yair Lapid goverment’s policy of refusing to provide military aid to Ukraine.

Since the early days of the war, senior Ukrainian officials have asked Israel to send its missile defense systems, especially 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.

The issue was even more pressing this week after Moscow pummeled Ukraine with missiles, damaging energy facilities nationwide and leaving at least 20 people dead.

The Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel it does not comment on the issue, and Lapid’s office declined to comment as well.

In the second week of the war, Lviv Oblast governor Maksym Kozytskyy told The Times of Israel that Ukraine was particularly interested in air defense systems like Iron Dome.

“If we had the same opportunity that Israel does, these air defense systems, we would have prevailed in the air,” he said.

Lviv Oblast governor Maksym Kozytskyy in his office in Lviv, March 3, 2022 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Also in March, Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky brought up Iron Dome while addressing the Knesset.

“Everybody knows that your missile defense systems are the best,” he said by video feed. “You can definitely help our people, save the lives of Ukrainians.”

Only last month, Zelensky complained in an interview with France’s TV5Monde  that Israel had given his country “nothing” to help it defend itself, indicating that its leaders had been disingenuous in rejecting his requests for air defense systems.

“Israel gave us nothing. Nothing, zero,” Zelensky said. “I understand they are in a difficult situation with Syria, with Russia.

Zelensky, who said he spoke to Lapid and his predecessor Naftali Bennett about air defense supplies, indicated that he was told the reason for the refusal was that Israel needed the batteries for its own protection.

A medical worker runs past a burning car after a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 10, 2022 (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna)

“I understand they need to defend their land, but then I got information from my intelligence services that Israel provides [the air defenses] in other countries. They can sell, they can export, which is why I am shocked.”

Seven months of disappointment

On Thursday, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk expressed his dismay that Israel has not reconsidered its stance on the war.

“Please tell me how can you kill someone with anti-missile systems,” he told The Times of Israel. “You can protect people’s lives.”

The Iron Dome short-range missile defense system has been credited with intercepting thousands of rockets fired by Gazan terrorists, saving hundreds of lives and remaking Israel’s defense strategy. But Russia’s high-profile strikes into Ukrainian cities have been carried out with medium- and long-range missiles, which Iron Dome would not stop.

Korniychuk explained that Iron Dome is a short-hand for Israeli missile defense systems: “For proper air defense, you need all three types of anti-missile – the short-range, which is Iron Dome, medium-range and long-range, which is Barak 7 and 8.”

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

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.

Israeli officials also told The Times of Israel that Kyiv uses the term “Iron Dome” as a catch-all phrase for Israel’s missile defense technology.

Though Ukrainian officials have been asking their Israeli counterparts for defensive military aid for seven months, there has been no change in the response, said the ambassador. “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.

Kyiv 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 Iranian drones.

Despite recent reports that Jerusalem is providing Kyiv with meaningful intelligence on the drones, the Ukrainian diplomat dismissed them as overblown.

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

Korniychuk stressed that Israel’s policy is personally disappointing for Zelensky.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky takes part in a national flag-raising ceremony in the recently retaken city of Izium, Ukraine, Sept. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

“As the president of Ukraine and as a Jew, he has his own personal feelings toward Israel,” explained the diplomat. “He loves this country and he doesn’t understand this special position that Israel takes.”

Israel says it has supported Ukraine by sending over 100 tons of humanitarian aid and setting up a field hospital in western Ukraine for six weeks at the start of the war. It also shipped 2,000 helmets and 500 flak jackets that the Defense Ministry said would be given to rescue forces and civilian organizations.

Israel has also begun to accept wounded Ukrainian soldiers for treatment and rehabilitation in Israeli hospitals.

But Korniychuk said that humanitarian support is not what Ukraine needs right now.

“We cannot win the war just with bandages and pharmaceutical products,” he insisted.

Setting up an emergency room tent at an Israeli field hospital in Mostyska, Ukraine, March 22, 2022 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

“I really appreciate the treatment of the soldiers. But it took us five months to persuade the government to take them,” he continued. “European countries took thousands of Ukrainian wounded already.”

Israel keeps a lid on how many Iron Dome batteries it possesses and where they are deployed, but it has provided two of the systems to the US, which helped fund its development, and reports recently indicated a deal to sell batteries to Cyprus.

Last month, Reuters reported that Israel has sold another air defense system, Rafael’s SPYDER, to the UAE.

Earlier this month, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site Zman Yisrael reported that an Israeli defense contractor was supplying anti-drone systems to Ukraine’s military by way of Poland.

Korniychuk dismissed those reports as “meaningless conspiracy theories.”

Most Popular
read more: