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Gantz: Israel may supply Ukraine with rocket and drone alert system, but not weapons

Defense minister says Jerusalem seeking info needed for development of ‘life-saving civilian early-warning system,’ amid repeated Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to ambassadors from EU nations on October 19, 2022 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to ambassadors from EU nations on October 19, 2022 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday reiterated that Israel would not supply weapons to Ukraine to fight Russia’s eight-month-long invasion, but said Jerusalem could supply an early-warning system to the beleaguered nation to warn of incoming strikes, like the one used in Israel.

Speaking to a group of European Union ambassadors a day after Ukraine said it would submit a formal request for Israeli air defense systems like Iron Dome, Gantz ruled out the sale of such weapons.

“Israel supports and stands with Ukraine, NATO, and the West. This is something we have said in the past and repeat today. Israel has a policy of supporting Ukraine via humanitarian aid, and the delivery of life-saving defensive equipment,” Gantz said in remarks provided by his office.

“This being said, I would like to emphasize that Israel will not deliver weapon systems to Ukraine due to a variety of operational considerations. We will continue to support Ukraine within our limitations, as we have done in the past,” he said.

“We have sent a request to the Ukrainians to share information about their needs for air defense alerts. Once we gain this information, we will be able to assist in the development of a life-saving civilian early-warning system,” Gantz added.

Israel’s warning system uses a mix of radar and electro-optic devices to detect rocket, missile, and drone launches, classify the size and the threat they represent, and pinpoint on a map the areas that are in danger.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to ambassadors from EU nations on October 19, 2022 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Citizens receive warnings through sirens, alerts on their phones, and messages on TV and radio.

The system has been credited with saving hundreds of lives over the years during flare-ups of violence with terror groups in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, which have launched thousands of projectiles at Israeli cities.

In recent years the system’s accuracy has been upgraded so that it can limit its alerts to specific areas of large cities.

Screenshot of Red Alert, the Israeli app that warns locals of incoming missile attacks. (Courtesy)

Ukrainian cities in recent weeks have faced repeated attacks by Iranian-made loitering munitions, also known as suicide drones, and other missiles launched by Russia.

“We are following Iran’s involvement in the war in Ukraine. We see that Iran provides UAVs and in the near future may also provide additional advanced systems,” Gantz said.

Ukraine on Wednesday said its military had shot down more than 223 Iranian-made drones in a little more than a month.

A drone approaches for an attack in Kyiv on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

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.

But Jerusalem has so far avoided providing direct military aid to Kyiv — neither offensive arms nor advanced defensive technology — since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, in an attempt to avoid sparking a crisis with Moscow.

Israel is one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, and Russia.

But Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as Jerusalem has increasingly supported Ukraine while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies, which are largely controlled by Moscow.

In April, Gantz okayed for the first time sending Ukrainian emergency services 2,000 helmets and 500 flak jackets, after long refusing.

A man is seen on the ground after a blast following a drone attack in Kyiv on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

That move came following reports of mass killing of civilians, rape and other atrocities committed by Russian forces in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, leading to a change of tone from Israeli politicians.

At the time, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is now also prime minister, explicitly accused Russia of war crimes over the reports, in the strongest comments against Moscow by a top Israeli official.

Ties between Israel and Russia were further frayed following a claim by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Adolf Hitler had Jewish heritage, in an attempt to defend Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as an attempt to “de-Nazify” a country whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.

While Jerusalem somewhat shifted its tone to align more with Western powers, it has so far steadfastly declined to contribute to the Ukrainian military effort.

On Wednesday, Gantz said he plans to approve an additional defensive aid package to Ukraine.

Israel has also sent some 100 tons of humanitarian aid, as well as setting up a field hospital in western Ukraine for six weeks.

Lazar Berman and agencies contributed to this report.

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