Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Ukraine faces “total destruction” if world leaders don’t act quickly amid Russia’s invasion of the country.
“Things are looking bad on the ground right now, but it’s important to understand that if world leaders don’t act quickly, it can get much worse,” he said at Tel Aviv’s CyberTech conference. “I’m talking about untold loss of life, total destruction of Ukraine. Millions of refugees. And it’s not too late.”
“It’s the responsibility of the major players in the world to get the two sides out of the battlefield and on to the negotiation table,” he added.
Bennett has spoken at least twice with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin and offered Israel’s service as an intermediary since the conflict broke out, in line with a request from Zelensky.
“I participated in five or six different conflicts as a soldier, a commander and later on as a security cabinet member. It’s just a horrible thing,” Bennett said. “We in Israel have had our fair share of wars, and I can tell you one big lesson: Wars are easy to start and very difficult to finish.”
While the war rages on, Israel should open its borders to all Ukrainian refugees, said opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, also addressing CyberTech.
“I fully support giving short-term visas, or as long as is necessary, visas for non-Jews in Ukraine who want to find refuge in Israel,” the former prime minister said.
While Israel has accepted Ukrainian refugees, the Interior Ministry has been demanding deposits of several thousand shekels from the family members of Ukrainians who don’t have standing in the country, which they say is a measure against the refuge-seekers potentially overstaying their welcome.
Israel and Ukraine’s tech economies are highly intertwined, with many Israeli companies employing Ukraine-based development teams.
“We have now tens of thousands of programmers in Ukraine, some say it is up to 50,000. If we don’t find a solution to that problem, Israeli high-tech, and cyber with it, will hit a brick wall,” said Netanyahu.
Netanyahu proposed providing Israeli visas for tech workers fleeing the conflict.
“We have to find a solution and our best solution is to include [Ukrainian employees of Israeli companies] in the people that we offer visas and refuge to,” he said.
“An alternative would be to have neighboring countries like Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria [take them in and] to make international arrangements to have these people stay there and continue to work for us.”
Netanyahu also recalled Israel’s commitment to absorb Ukrainian Jews who want to immigrate to Israel, reportedly now in the thousands.
“We in Israel have a personal, specific vested value in helping the Jews in Ukraine who want to immigrate to Israel to do so, that is to come to Israel, the homeland of all the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said.
Regarding the conflict itself, Netanyahu did not mention Russia by name, but said: “I think everything should be done and every effort should be made to stop the tragedy and bloodshed in Ukraine.”