Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke Monday with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov in a call his office described as “positive,” despite tensions between the countries over Jerusalem’s refusal to provide Kyiv with defensive weaponry.
The discussion included Israel’s offer to help Ukraine build an early warning system to notify citizens of incoming aerial threats such as missiles, rockets and attack drones.
The two spoke by phone after Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told Hebrew language media last week that Gantz had unexpectedly canceled a long-awaited call with Reznikov, causing “disappointment” in Kyiv.
Gantz’s office said he was briefed by Reznikov on recent developments on the battlefield in Ukraine. Gantz “expressed his condolences on the tragic loss of life, and concern regarding the humanitarian crisis as a result of the war,” the statement said.
The minister reiterated Israel’s commitment to the Ukrainian people and to supporting Ukraine amid the Russian invasion by delivering humanitarian aid and life-saving equipment, but nonetheless stressed “the operational limitations” Israel faces in regard to Russia’s presence in Syria.
“As a result, Israel will not provide weapon systems to Ukraine,” Gantz told Reznikov.
The top defense officials instead agreed to conduct professional dialogue on the civilian early warning system.
Gantz and Reznikov agreed to maintain an open line of communication in the coming weeks in order to address additional items on the agenda, the statement said, without elaborating on said topics.
Israel has maintained a strict policy of not providing military aid to Ukraine since Russian troops invaded on February 24.
The reasoning behind the decision appears to be Israel’s strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria as part of its efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment on its doorstep. This requires it to cooperate with the Russian military, which largely controls Syria’s airspace.
Another reason could be Israel’s attempt to avoid causing problems for Russia’s large Jewish community. Russian authorities have for several months been waging a legal battle against the Jewish Agency’s branch in the country.
Ukraine also says Tehran has been providing Moscow with offensive drones and has reported downing numerous drones that seem to have been produced in Iran. The White House claimed last week that Iran has sent military personnel to help train drone operators in Crimea. Such drones have been used to target Ukraine’s infrastructure and civilian population.
In an interview with MSNBC last week, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu raised concerns about Israeli weapons ending up in Iranian hands and being used against Israeli troops elsewhere as another reason for Israel’s strict policy of not sending weapons to Ukraine.
In a phone call between Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba last week, the premier raised Israel’s “deep concern about the military ties between Iran and Russia.”
Meanwhile, a recent report suggested that Russia has drawn down forces in Syria, including removing a sophisticated air defense system that has been a major threat to Israeli Air Force operations in the country.
In a Friday interview with USA Today, Netanyahu stressed the importance of establishing a “measured, balanced and responsible relationship with the Kremlin” and avoiding any escalation in Syria, but went on to suggest he might take a more active role toward supporting Kyiv if he is reelected prime minister in the upcoming elections.
“I was asked about that recently, and I said I’ll look into it when I get into office,” the opposition chairman said. “We all have sympathy for Ukraine. It’s not even a question, and I’m no different.”
However, throughout his premiership Netanyahu had a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he has avoided any strong criticism of Russia since the invasion.