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Israeli sources say minister’s call to arm Ukraine doesn’t represent government

Comments to Hebrew media come after Russian ex-president warned move would ‘destroy all’ ties between Jerusalem and Moscow

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People's Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People's Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry moved to distance Israel from a minister’s call to supply Ukraine with military aid to counter the Russian invasion, after the former president of Russia warned the move would “destroy all” ties between Jerusalem and Moscow.

In a tweet Sunday, Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai noted a report that Iran is due to ship ballistic missiles to Russia, responding that Israel should reverse its refusal to provide weaponry to Ukrainian forces.

“There is no longer any doubt where Israel should stand in this bloody conflict. The time has come for Ukraine to receive military aid as well, just as the US and NATO countries provide,” he said.

Unnamed government sources on Monday stressed to several Hebrew media outlets that Shai’s comments do not reflect government policy, with Israel having made no official statement of any plans to send military aid to Ukraine.

The remarks came after a report by Russian state media directly linked Shai’s tweet to Dmitry Medvedev’s warning Monday against sending arms to Ukraine.

“It seems Israel will supply weapons to the Kyiv regime. A very reckless move. It will destroy all diplomatic relations between our countries,” Medvedev wrote on Telegram.

Medvedev, who was also once prime minister, currently serves as the deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, and is considered to be a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) listens to then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during the State Council meeting on the agricultural policy at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on December 26, 2019. (Yekaterina Shtukina/Sputnik, Government Pool Photo via AP)

His comments came shortly after explosive-laden suicide drones, apparently including Iranian-made Shaheds, struck Ukraine’s capital, killing at least four people and prompting Kyiv to call for the EU to slap sanctions on Tehran.

Since Russia invaded on February 24, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have consistently pressed Israel to supply weapons. Jerusalem has sent repeated shipments of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but has repeatedly rebuffed Kyiv’s requests for defense weapons, specifically missile defense systems that could be used to fend off Russian airstrikes, despite expressing sympathy for the country’s plight.

Last month, Zelensky said that Israel had given his country “nothing” to help it defend itself, indicating that its leaders had been disingenuous in rejecting his requests for air defense systems.

Israel’s refusal is seen as an attempt by Jerusalem to maintain working ties with Moscow, due to Russia’s control of Syrian air space, where Israel’s air force has carried out hundreds of sorties against alleged Iranian arms shipments and in order to keep groups backed by Tehran from establishing a foothold.

Russia has largely turned a blind eye to the Israeli air strikes, though ties between Jerusalem and Moscow have suffered as Israeli has condemned its invasion of its neighbor.

A senior Ukrainian official has said Israel is providing Ukraine with “basic intelligence” on Iranian suicide drones being deployed by the Russian army.

A drone flies over Kyiv during an attack on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)

The New York Times report last week, which cited an anonymous Ukrainian source, also said that a private Israeli security firm was giving the Ukrainians satellite imagery of Russian military positions.

Additionally, Israel has sent over 100 tons of humanitarian aid and set up a field hospital in western Ukraine for six weeks at the start of the war.

It also shipped 2,000 helmets and 500 flak jackets that the Defense Ministry said would be given to Ukrainian rescue forces and civilian organizations.

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