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Israel said weighing Ukraine’s requests for helmets, flak jackets

Israeli source quoted in TV report saying Jerusalem turned down Kyiv’s request for cyber weaponry to use against Russia

Illustrative: A Ukrainian serviceman adjusts his helmet while working to fix a trench that was damaged by a mortar strike at a front line position, less than 100 meters from Russian separatists positions, in the Luhansk area, eastern Ukraine, January 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Illustrative: A Ukrainian serviceman adjusts his helmet while working to fix a trench that was damaged by a mortar strike at a front line position, less than 100 meters from Russian separatists positions, in the Luhansk area, eastern Ukraine, January 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Israel has begun considering Ukrainian requests for some defensive equipment amid Russia’s invasion of the country, Israeli television reported Friday.

Ukraine has been publicly pleading for Israel to provide it with protective gear, but has so far been rebuffed.

However, citing a senior Israel source, Channel 12 news said Jerusalem is now weighing Kyiv’s requests for equipment such as helmets and flak jackets.

The source told the network that Ukraine also requested cyber weaponry to use against Russia, including the NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus hacking software, and other weaponry.

Israel immediately rejected the request, according to the report, which said Jerusalem has rejected all of Kyiv’s demands for weapons in recent weeks and months.

Earlier Friday, the Ukrainian ambassador said President Volodymyr Zelensky “does not” understand Israel’s refusal to provide defensive equipment, as he accused Israeli leaders of not doing enough to help Ukraine by providing defensive aid, absorbing refugees, and taking a clear stance against Russia.

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

Israel has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including 100 tons of medical and cold-weather equipment flown out of Ben Gurion Airport last week. However, it has sought to walk a tightrope to maintain good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, the latter of which maintains a military presence in Syria and is negotiating Iran’s return to a nuclear deal.

Also Friday, a pair of Hebrew media reports said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pushed Zelensky to accept an offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin, which would require Kyiv to make significant concessions to end Russia’s invasion.

The prime minister’s office denied the claim.

“If I were you, I would think about the lives of my people and take the offer,” Bennett told Zelensky during a phone call on Tuesday, according to a senior Ukrainian official, who spoke to Walla and Haaretz on condition of anonymity.

The reports did not specify the details of Putin’s offer as reportedly conveyed by Bennett, but previous reports from Walla said that Putin is demanding an independent Donbas region, but stopping short of seeking regime change in Ukraine. Other reports have suggested that the plan Bennett brought to Zelensky includes recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk as separate entities, and changing the Ukrainian constitution to excise a commitment to joining NATO.

Zelensky did not take well to Bennett’s proposal, responding with a brief, “I hear you,” the Ukrainian official reportedly said.

“Bennett has proposed that we surrender,” the senior Ukrainian official told the Israeli news sites. “We have no intention of doing so. We know that Putin’s proposal is just the beginning.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett poses for a picture at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on January 26, 2022; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 24, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90; Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Responding to the report, a source in the Prime Minister’s Office said, “It is doubtful whether this is a senior official who is in Ukraine and on [Bennett’s] call [with Zelensky], since it took place on a private line.”

The PMO source denied that Bennett told Zelensky to take Putin’s offer, “as Israel does not have such an offer.”

“In any case, the prime minister does not intend to give Zelensky recommendations or advice on how to act at any stage,” the source told Walla. “The conversation between the two was long and positive and included the possibility of a meeting [between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators] in Jerusalem.”

The source declined to say whether Bennett will be prepared to make proposals of his own. “The prime minister’s efforts are aimed at one thing: to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine and the unnecessary suffering.”

Israel has long had good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, and has been seeking to use its position to broker an agreement, as it also tries to walk a tightrope maintaining its ties to both countries. But its relationship with Kyiv has strained as Bennett has avoided directly blaming Russia for the war, although Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has done so.

The unnamed Ukrainian official was quoted in the Hebrew reports soon after Korniychuk’s press conference, at which he urged Israel to drop its neutrality and side openly with Ukraine, noted that Bennett is not the only mediator, and claimed Israel is “afraid” of offending Moscow.

The unnamed official also reportedly said Israel has asked that Ukraine cease its requests for military or defense assistance, as this could hinder Jerusalem’s efforts to mediate and maintain neutrality.

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