Israeli diplomats nix drone sale to Ukraine — report

Defense Ministry had approved arms deal, but fearing Russia’s response, Foreign Ministry committee vetoes it, according to Channel 2

The Eitan drone, also known as the Heron TP flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Israel, March 7, 2007. (AP/Ariel Schalit/File)
The Eitan drone, also known as the Heron TP flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Israel, March 7, 2007. (AP/Ariel Schalit/File)

A Defense Ministry-approved deal to sell drones to Ukraine was vetoed by a Foreign Ministry special panel amid fears Russia would disapprove, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Monday.

The report added that Russia has blocked arms sales to Iran and Syria recently, and said Israel was concerned a drone sale to Ukraine would anger Moscow, and could provoke it to sell more arms to Syria and Iran, the Jewish state’s arch-enemy.

The broadcaster said a Ukrainian delegation had visited Israel with a view to acquiring military hardware including drones to use against pro-Russian separatists.

It was not reported when the visit took place or when the decision to turn down the request was taken.

A Defense Ministry spokesman refused to comment on the report.

Israel has largely kept quiet on the Ukraine-Russia crisis, seeking not to upset its good relations with the United States — which sides with the government in Kiev and has been pressuring Putin over Crimea — while also maintaining good ties with Moscow, an important player in regional issues, such as the Syrian civil war and the Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

On Sunday, with the US clamping down on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir told Russian media that Russia’s need for fresh produce is “a great opportunity” for Israel.

Shamir said he feels that Israel cannot judge Russia’s actions. The EU and US, he said, have not asked Israel to avoid exporting to Russia, and it’s unlikely Israel would agree even if asked.

On March 5, the Foreign Ministry released its first statement on the events in Ukraine, stating that Israel follows the issue “with great concern” and is “anxious for the well-being of all its citizens, and hopes that the situation will not deteriorate to the loss of life.”

The laconic declaration ended by Israel stating that it “expects the crisis in Ukraine to be dealt with by diplomatic means and to be resolved peacefully.”

In May, in another rare and noncommittal statement, Israel said it respects the outcome of the presidential elections in Ukraine.

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