Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday that Israel has worked throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to help defuse the conflict while protecting its own interests.
“A few hours flight from here, in Kyiv, the world order is undergoing a huge upheaval,” he said in a speech at the Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv. “From the beginning, the State of Israel has taken a measured and responsible approach, which allows us not only to protect our interests, but also to be useful. To be a reliable player, one of the few that can communicate directly with both parties, and assist as required. Indeed help, quietly.”
Jerusalem 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; Bennett has spoken to both presidents and offered to mediate in the crisis.
Bennett noted that earlier Tuesday, Israel “sent three planes full of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, and we will send more, as needed. We are also preparing to provide humanitarian assistance on the ground and, of course, to facilitate the immigration of Jews, from all relevant places.”
The presence of Russian forces in Syria requires Israel to coordinate with Moscow when the IDF carries out strikes on Iranian-backed targets in that country. There are also significant Jewish communities in both Ukraine and Russia, which Israel takes into account.
Earlier this week the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv said that the fighting in Ukraine will not stop the military coordination between Israel and Russia in Syria.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel will vote in favor of the United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, days after Jerusalem refused to co-sponsor a similar measure in the Security Council in a move that disappointed the United States.
Lapid said Israel has a moral responsibility to both condemn Russia for its actions and provide humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainians.
In an apparent reference to the disagreement over the earlier resolution, Lapid said the US, Israel’s main ally, understands Jerusalem’s need to be “careful and discretionary” in its delicate relations with Moscow.
On Tuesday Israel began airlifting thousands of coats, blankets, sleeping bags, medical equipment, tents and water purification equipment to Ukraine.
However, Bennett refused a request for military aid made last week by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday. 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.
During the Friday phone call, Zelensky also asked that Israel serve as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia.
Bennett proposed the idea to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a phone call on Sunday. Putin did not accept the offer and the proposal was unlikely to lead to any concrete results, Kan reported.
Delegations from Ukraine and Moscow instead met Monday on the border between Ukraine and Belarus but after five hours agreed only to hold further talks. Russia meanwhile has pressed on with what it calls a “special operation” in Ukraine, shelling key cities and sending a column of armor dozens of miles long that is approaching the capital Kyiv.
At the Mossad on Tuesday, Bennett also touched on the talks in Vienna between Iran and world powers on a nuclear deal, which he said are “approaching the moment of truth — it’s money time.”
Bennett referred to the sunset clause in the potential agreement, which the premier said in two and a half years will allow Iran to install and operate advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium.
“We are not obligated by the agreement and we are certainly not obligated by the date that allows Iran in two and a half years to assemble countless centrifuges,” he said.
Israel has repeatedly said it reserves the right to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if it perceives an existential threat.
The Vienna talks aim to save the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in 2015 between Iran and world powers, which has unraveled after the Trump administration pulled the US out in 2018.
The JCPOA lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.