In policy shift, Israel to send flak jackets and helmets to Ukraine

After speaking to his counterpart Oleksii Reznikov, Defense Minister Gantz says protective equipment will be provided to civilian rescue and medical forces, though not military

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

Ukrainian emergency services carry bodies of civilians killed by the Russian troops over the destroyed bridge in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, March 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukrainian emergency services carry bodies of civilians killed by the Russian troops over the destroyed bridge in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, March 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

After long refusing to provide defensive equipment to Ukraine, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday that Israel will supply helmets and flak jackets to the beleaguered nation’s emergency services amid Russia’s invasion.

Gantz spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, following several requests for such equipment, and updated him on Israel’s decision, his office said in a statement.

Gantz “approved the purchase of protective equipment… which will be transferred to the Ukrainian rescue forces and civilian organizations,” the statement read.

His office added that the helmets and flak jackets Israel intends to send to Ukraine are “in the process of being procured.”

Jerusalem first weighed Ukrainian requests for some defensive equipment in March. More recently, devastating images coming out of the Kyiv suburb of Bucha galvanized many countries against the Russian effort and led to a marked change of tone for Israeli politicians.

Western leaders united in outrage when dozens of bodies were found on the streets and in mass graves in Bucha after Russian troops retreated from the devastated town, laying bare the horrors of a 55-day war that has killed thousands.

Bodies lie on a street in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP)

Ukraine and Western nations have accused Russian troops of war crimes, prompting vows of action at the International Criminal Court.

Israel has avoided aligning too closely with either side since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24. It is one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, and Russia.

However, the rhetoric coming from Jerusalem shifted in the wake of the reports of widespread civilian killings by the Russians. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid even explicitly accused Russia of war crimes earlier this month, in the strongest comments against Moscow yet by a top Israeli official.

Gantz’s office on Wednesday said that “the defense minister wished to emphasize that Israel stands by the side of the citizens of Ukraine, and the need to continue to assist the country and to act to end the war.”

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz, right, gives a statement to the media at the IDF Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem, on March 30, 2022, and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov attends peace talks in the Gomel region, Belarus, February 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90; Sergei Kholodilin/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

While Jerusalem might have somewhat shifted its tone to align more with Western powers, it has so far steadfastly declined to contribute to the Ukrainian military effort. Instead, Israel has sent a 100-ton humanitarian aid package to Ukraine and built a field hospital in the west of the country.

The Defense Ministry said sending flak jackets and helmets was “part of Israel’s extensive humanitarian efforts, including the establishment of a field hospital, the absorption of immigrants and refugees, providing food, humanitarian aid, medical assistance and more.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, pleads with Israel at a press conference to provide protective equipment such as helmets and flak jackets for Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, March 7, 2022.(Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Kyiv has long asked for Israel to sell it defensive military equipment, including the Iron Dome air defense system, but so far has been rebuffed by Jerusalem. Ukraine has also requested cyber weaponry to use against Russia, including the NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus hacking software, according to Channel 12 news.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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