Likening Russia to Goliath, Zelensky says Ukraine needs David’s Sling from Israel

Addressing Munich Security Conference, Ukrainian president issues fresh plea for military support, says he hopes Israeli decision to hold back air defense system only ‘temporary’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on a screen during the Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 17, 2023. (Thomas KIENZLE / AFP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on a screen during the Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 17, 2023. (Thomas KIENZLE / AFP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said his country needs the David’s Sling air defense system from Israel to defeat the Russian “Goliath.”

At the end of his video address to the annual Munich Security Conference, Zelensky issued a fresh request for military assistance from Jerusalem, which has thus far held off on doing so, citing a need to maintain its ties with Russia, which controls the skies over Syria that Israel uses to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence on its northern border.

In his latest plea to Israel, Zelensky resorted to metaphor, comparing Ukraine to David, the underdog from the Biblical tale who manages to defeat Goliath with a sling. The name was given to the Israeli-developed system capable of intercepting rockets and missiles at a range of 40-300 kilometers.

Israel operates a multi-tiered air defense array, which also includes the short-range Iron Dome and the long-range Arrow and Patriot systems.

Ukraine has asked Israel for various facets of the system, but Zelensky highlighted David’s Sling on Friday, possibly for rhetorical sake.

“We have no alternative but to defeat the Russian Goliath. Being David is fighting and we are fighting. Being David is having a sling to win,” he said in English remarks.

“We do not have yet the David’s Sling from Israel, but I believe it is just temporary.”

The David’s Sling missile defense system seen at the Hatzor Air Base, Israel. Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Zelensky met Thursday with visiting Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Kyiv, with the latter stressing that Israel “supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

The Ukrainian leader thanked Israel for the humanitarian aid over the past year, which has topped NIS 80 million ($22.5 million). He also asked Cohen to increase the number of wounded soldiers being treated in Israel, and to allow another 15,000 Ukrainians into Israel with work permits.

Requests for military weapons were not included in the public readouts.

Cohen announced new measures of support, including a $200 million loan guarantee for healthcare and civilian infrastructure along with a pledge to develop a “smart early warning system.”

The airstrike warning system would be similar to the technology Israel uses to warn civilians of rocket attacks. The system is expected to reach Ukraine within 3-6 months.

Cohen said that Israel would offer a list of tangible measures, including reconstruction and water projects, within 3-4 months.

Foreign Minister meets with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Cohen’s earlier meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was reported to not have been received as positively with Kyiv, which was irked at the top Israeli diplomat’s refusal to condemn Russia by name while visiting Bucha where Russian forces massacred hundreds.

“As I promised, Israel will increase assistance to Ukraine and help it with reconstruction efforts. I am confident that my visit will strengthen ties between the countries,” Cohen tweeted Friday as Zelensky spoke.

Save for the Israel-focused remark at the end, Zelensky’s plea for additional military support was directed to all Western countries.

Ukrainian emergency services employees push the remains of an S-300 missile fired by Russian forces onto a truck in Kharkiv, Ukraine on February 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Warning that delays would play into Russia’s hand as the invasion approaches its first anniversary, Zelensky said, “There is no alternative to speed because it’s speed that life depends on.”

Ukraine is depending on Western weapons to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambition of securing control of large areas of the country, in what has become a test of foreign governments’ resolve amid increasing financial costs.

About 40 heads of state and government, as well as politicians and security experts from almost 100 countries, including the United States, Europe and China, were due to attend the three-day Munich Security Conference.

“The Kremlin can break the security and peace of all who are represented here in Munich,” Zelensky warned.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky waves after addressing the audience via video as Berlinale Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian (R) applauds during the Opening Gala of the Berlinale, Europe’s first major film festival of the year, in Berlin on February 16, 2023. (Ronny Hartmann/AFP)

For the first time in two decades, conference organizers did not invite Russian officials to Munich. Western countries have sought to isolate Russia diplomatically over the invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24, 2022.

US Vice President Kamala Harris was set to join the leaders of France, Germany and the UK at the Munich conference.

At the same conference last year, held just days before Putin sent troops into Ukraine, Harris shared US warnings that Russia was about to attack its neighbor and said, “Not since the end of the Cold War has this forum convened under such dire circumstances.”

In a speech scheduled for Saturday, the US vice president will lay out what’s at stake in the war and why it matters, to bolster the case for maintaining US support for Ukraine for as long as it takes, the White House said.

Kyiv, after receiving Western pledges of tanks and more ammunition, is now hoping for fighter jets, but some countries have balked at sending them.

Frans Timmermans, the executive vice president of the European Union’s executive commission, said the 27-nation EU so far has maintained unity on the issue.

“I think everyone can see how important it is for Ukraine to win this war,” Timmermans said. “This is important for our Europe, too, because Putin isn’t just attacking Ukraine, he is also attacking us in the sense that he doesn’t support our values.”

He said it was important to make clear that Europe will support Ukraine however long the war lasts. “Putin is in difficulty,” Timmermans said, adding that the Russian leader would seek to put severe military pressure on Ukraine in the coming weeks and months.

Timmermans also expressed hope that China could exert pressure on Russia to end the war.

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