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Gantz, Netanyahu both reiterate Israel’s unwillingness to sell weapons to Ukraine

Political rivals express similar sentiment in separate interviews; Kyiv’s envoy to Israel says defense minister canceled an upcoming call with his Ukrainian counterpart

File: Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference after the Gaza ceasefire in Tel Aviv, May 21, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
File: Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference after the Gaza ceasefire in Tel Aviv, May 21, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In a rare expression of unity between coalition and opposition figures, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday both expressed an unwillingness to alter Israel’s policy of not sending defense equipment to Ukraine.

“We are not selling weapons to Ukraine,” Gantz told the ultra-Orthodox Kol Chai radio station, noting instead the humanitarian aid Israel has been providing, and vowing to continue such shipments months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Gantz also emphasized that Israel had not previously sold weapons to the country.

Yevgen Korniychuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, told the Maariv newspaper on Tuesday that Gantz had unexpectedly canceled a long-awaited call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, without any explanation earlier this week.

Korniychuk added that Ukraine was “disappointed” by the move, and that he didn’t think his country’s officials would be speaking with the defense minister going forward.

However, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba are slated to speak by phone on Thursday, according to several Hebrew media reports. Korniychuk said Ukraine was surprised by the slated phone call given the upcoming elections and Lapid’s role as prime minister.

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

Meanwhile, in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Netanyahu praised the coalition government’s “prudent” approach toward Ukraine, highlighting Israel’s absorption of refugees and other humanitarian initiatives.

He also elaborated on Israeli concerns regarding selling weapons to Ukraine.

“On the question of weapons there’s always a possibility — and this has happened time and again — that weapons we supplied in one battlefield end up in Iranian hands used against us,” the former prime minister told the US TV network, adding that Iranian-backed forces on the Golan Heights often use Israeli-made weapons in clashes with the Jewish state.

Netanyahu added that he feared such spillover may occur if Israel sells weapons to Ukraine, and that the coalition’s “circumspect” stance in not selling arms to Ukraine was “important.”

The former premier also added that he feared Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could become a potentially worldwide nuclear conflict, in what he described as a “threshold that has not been crossed for 77 years.”

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview with MSNBC, October 18, 2022. (Screen capture/MSNBC; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Earlier Tuesday, Kuleba said his country plans to submit a formal request to Israel asking for immediate air defense assistance a day after Moscow attacked energy and infrastructure sites across Ukraine with drones.

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.

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.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said earlier this week that he believed Israel should be sending weaponry to Ukraine, in a view not shared by most decision-makers in the government.

Last Thursday, Korniychuk expressed his dismay that Israel has not reconsidered its stance on the war despite seven months of requests.

“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.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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