Israel is among 40 countries attending a meeting of Western countries to discuss supplying more weaponry to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia’s invasion of the country.
Israel’s attendance at the meeting Tuesday, hosted by the US at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, reflects an ongoing shift as Jerusalem appears to discard its policy of only supplying humanitarian aid to the embattled country in order to keep ties with Moscow intact.
The meeting, held at the invitation of the United States, is “focused on doing things to generate additional capability and capacity for the Ukrainian forces,” according to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The Jewish state is being represented at the emergency talks by Brig. Gen. (Res.) Dror Shalom, head of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Bureau, the Kan public broadcaster reported. His participation, at the invitation of the US, was later confirmed to The Times of Israel by a ministry spokesperson.
The Haaretz news site reported that Defense Minister Benny Gantz was invited but declined due to the proximity to Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which starts Wednesday evening.
Israel has been criticized during the two months since Russia invaded Ukraine for declining to provide military aid to Kyiv, though it sent multiple shipments of humanitarian aid to the country, as well as set up a field hospital for refugees.
But in an apparent policy shift last week, Gantz said Israel would send flak jackets and helmets to Ukraine, following several requests for such equipment.
After maintaining a careful balance between its two allies amid efforts to broker talks, the rhetoric coming from Jerusalem shifted in the wake of the reports that emerged 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 said last week 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.”
ישראל משתתפת באופן פומבי במפגש מיוחד כעת בגרמניה לדיון על הדרכים לחימושה של אוקראינה. בדיון אותו מארחת ארה"ב בבסיס חה"א רמשטיין לוקחות חלק יותר מ 40 מדינות, בהן כל חברות נאט"ו. את ישראל מייצג סביב השולחן ראש האגף המדיני בטחוני במשהב"ט תא"ל מיל' דרור שלום (מוקף בעיגול בצד ימין). pic.twitter.com/Kcdmmy644T
— Moav Vardi (@MoavVardi) April 26, 2022
The talks are being attended by 43 countries in total, including all NATO countries and other US allies in southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
The US is already the biggest supplier of international military aid to Ukraine. Austin said Washington is “going to keep moving heaven and earth so that we can meet” Kyiv’s needs.
Military specialists say Western allies want to equip Ukrainian forces to halt the long-range bombings by Russia in the eastern Donbas region, which aim to push back Ukraine’s troops so that Russian tanks and troops can move in.
Attack drones, anti-aircraft missiles and sophisticated intelligence from Western agencies could prove vital for slowing the advance of Russia’s military might, they said.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly spoken of a need for an Israeli missile defense system, including Iron Dome, to protect their cities from Russian rockets.
Germany said Tuesday it would begin supplying anti-aircraft tanks, a clear shift after refusing for weeks to provide more advanced equipment, and a sign that Berlin was abandoning its cautious approach towards Moscow.
The government has agreed to sign off the delivery of used Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told the summit, according to a copy of her speech seen by AFP.
France is delivering Caesar cannons with a range of 40 kilometers (25 miles) and Britain has provided Starstreak anti-air missiles and tanks.
The Gepard tanks will not come from the German army but from stocks held by the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) arms group, government sources told AFP. They were taken out of service 10 years ago and need to be technically upgraded, the sources said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has come under fire for refusing to directly send heavy weapons to Ukraine, despite announcing a “turning point” in German defense policy in response to the war.
Critics have accused Scholz of weak leadership and say his Social Democrats (SPD) are too reluctant to break from their historic policy of detente towards Moscow. Scholz has even faced criticism from within his own coalition government, a partnership between the SPD, the Greens and the liberal FDP.
The chancellor has justified his cautious approach by saying he wishes to avoid a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia, a nuclear power. But according to a draft document seen by AFP on Tuesday, the three coalition parties now plan to present a joint proposal in parliament calling for the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine.
The document calls on the government to “continue and, where possible, accelerate the delivery of necessary equipment to Ukraine, including extending the delivery of heavy weapons and complex systems.”
In Moscow, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was to hold his first in-person talks with Putin since the fighting began on February 24.
“We are extremely interested in finding ways in order to create the conditions for effective dialogue, create the conditions for a ceasefire as soon as possible, create the conditions for a peaceful solution,” Guterres said at the start of talks with Lavrov.