Israel recently turned down a US request to approve the transfer of its advanced anti-tank Spike missiles from Germany, where they are made under license in an Israeli-owned factory, to Ukraine for use against Russia’s invasion forces, the Axios website reported Wednesday
Israel was reportedly concerned over the impact such a move would have on its relations with Russia. Specifically, an Israeli official said, Israel is worried “Russian soldiers will be killed by Israeli-made weapons, which could lead to Russia harming Israeli security interests in Syria.”
Under the term of the license, Israel must approve the transfer of the missiles to a third party, according to the report that cited two US and Israeli officials.
Colin Kahl, US undersecretary of defense for policy brought up the matter when he met with Israel’s Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel during the latter’s visit to Washington two weeks ago, officials said.
Kahl pitched the idea as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to encourage other countries to supply Ukraine with weapons. The US, Germany, and several other countries have already given Ukraine thousands of anti-tank missiles which have reportedly been used to great effect against Russian armor.
Eshel turned down Kahl’s request to approve the Spike transfer and said only nonlethal equipment will be given to the Ukrainians.
The missile topic was not specifically raised again when Defense Minister Benny Gantz was in Washington last week for talks with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Israeli sources said. Gantz told the US officials that Israel was committed to backing Ukraine but would only supply nonlethal military equipment while also preserving its own security interests at home.
“We continue to discuss with allies and partners the ongoing situation in Ukraine and the need to support Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russian aggression, but we will not discuss the details of those conversations,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told Axios.
In 2019, Israel’s Rafael weapons producer, which manufactures Spike, signed a deal for 1,500 rockets to be produced in German, as well as hundreds of man-portable launchers.
Jerusalem in recent weeks has appeared to shift slightly away from its balanced approach, agreeing to send hundreds of helmets and flak jackets to emergency workers in Ukraine and explicitly accusing Russia of war crimes as scenes of atrocities have emerged in towns and cities across the country.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Israel has rejected requests from Kyiv and the West for military equipment such as anti-missile batteries, and only recently agreed to send the helmets and flak jackets, part of a policy meant to preserve ties with Russia. Instead, it has sent some 100 tons of humanitarian aid and set up a field hospital in western Ukraine for six weeks.
But it has also sought to maintain its operational capabilities in Syria, an ally of Moscow, which has significant forces based there. Israel has long accused Iran of transferring advanced munitions to the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, via Syria and has carried out hundreds of airstrikes on targets in the country.
In recent years Israel and Russia established a so-called deconfliction hotline to keep the sides from getting tangled up and accidentally clashing over Syria.
Last week, Channel 13 reported that Russian forces for the first time opened fire on Israeli jets with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles at the end of an alleged IAF attack on targets in northwestern Syria, in what could signal a significant shift in Moscow’s attitude to Israel.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have specifically mentioned Iron Dome as the top of their wish list for Israeli defensive equipment.
“Everybody knows that your missile defense systems are the best,” he told the Knesset in March. “You can definitely help our people, save the lives of Ukrainians, of Ukrainian Jews.”
In February, before the Russian invasion had begun, the Ynet website reported that Israel stopped the US from transferring Iron Dome batteries to Ukraine after it requested the equipment.