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Bennett declined Zelensky’s request for military aid, report says

Israeli leader demurred when Ukrainian president asked for weapons help during Friday phone call, broadcaster says, as Jerusalem seeks to balance its ties with Moscow and Kyiv

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett poses for a picture at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 26, 2022; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 24, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90; Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett poses for a picture at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 26, 2022; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 24, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90; Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett demurred when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Israel for military aid, according to a Sunday report.

Zelensky asked for “assistance with military implements and weapons” during a Friday phone call with Bennett, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The request did not include any details on specific weapons or equipment, but was more of a general appeal for military help, the unsourced report said.

Israel responded with “diplomatic politeness,” and it appeared that the request was not on the table, the report said.

Israel has friendly relations with both Kyiv and Moscow, and has been walking a diplomatic tightrope between the two countries during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Israel’s ties with Russia are sensitive because Israel carries out airstrikes against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, which is allied to Russia, and where Russian forces have a presence.

There are also significant Jewish communities in both Ukraine and Russia, which Israel takes into account.

A report last week said Israel stopped the US from transferring Israel’s Iron Dome defense system to Ukraine last year to preserve Israel’s ties with Russia.

Israel’s ties with both warring countries have presented Jerusalem with opportunities, as well as a headaches.

During the Friday phone call, Zelensky asked that Israel serve as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told The New York Times, “We do believe that Israel is the only democratic state in the world that has great relations with both Ukraine and Russia.” He added that Bennett did not give an immediate answer.

Bennett proposed the idea to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a phone call on Sunday.

Putin did not seize on the idea and the proposal was unlikely to lead to any concrete results, Kan reported.

Bennett reportedly initiated the call with Putin and updated the United States and Ukraine both before and after the conversation. The phone call marked the first time Bennett and Putin spoke since Russia’s invasion.

The Kan report said Bennett reassured Putin that a planeload of supplies slated to depart from Israel to Ukraine this week will include only humanitarian supplies, not military aid.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on October 22, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Delegations from Ukraine and Moscow will instead meet on the border between Ukraine and Belarus.

Zelensky initially refused to hold peace talks in Moscow’s ally Belarus, which has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging ground for the invasion.

Zelensky later agreed on Sunday to talks with a Russian delegation on the border. Details on the talks are not yet clear, including on when they will happen and if Zelensky will attend.

Israel has mostly sought to steer clear of the conflict.

Bennett convened a meeting of the security cabinet on Sunday evening for a “comprehensive” discussion to examine “the implications of the situation for Israel.”

According to Kan, Bennett told ministers that Israel needs to “maintain a low profile” in the conflict, and that it is not a focal point in the crisis.

At the cabinet meeting Sunday morning, Bennett expressed concern for Ukraine and warned of humanitarian consequences, but refrained from condemning Russia or even mentioning it by name, as he did on Thursday.

Israel has been careful in its comments on the conflict and Bennett has avoided criticizing Moscow publicly. This is believed to be at least partly due to its need to work with the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid last Thursday called “the Russian attack on Ukraine” a “serious violation of the international order,” however, in a statement said to be coordinated with Bennett. Lapid added: “Israel condemns that attack, and is ready and prepared to offer humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian citizens.”

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