Likud, opposition MKs urge upped support for Ukraine, including missile defense

Visiting Kyiv, Yuli Edelstein and Ze’ev Elkin call for government to quit sitting on fence, saying it should instead offer unequivocal support for war-torn country

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein (L), Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky (C) and National Unity MK Ze'ev Elkin meet in Kyiv on February 20, 2023. (Yuli Edelstein/Twitter)
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein (L), Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky (C) and National Unity MK Ze'ev Elkin meet in Kyiv on February 20, 2023. (Yuli Edelstein/Twitter)

A Likud MK and an opposition lawmaker visiting war-torn Ukraine issued a joint call Tuesday for Israel to provide more support to Kyiv, including military assistance, which Jerusalem has refrained from providing since Russia invaded the country a year ago.

“Israel must meaningfully expand its support for Ukraine,” Likud’s Yuli Edelstein and National Unity MK Ze’ev Elkin said in a joint statement.

The two called on Israel to help in all fields, including militarily, noting that its technology could help protect Ukraine’s civilians, independence, and freedom.

“We support tangible cooperation between Israel and Ukraine in air defense and missile defense and in more defensive measures,” they said they told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a trip to Kyiv Monday.

Their call was one of the first by lawmakers — in the coalition or the opposition — for Israel to take a more unequivocal position on the matter. Edelstein is the chair of the Knesset’s high-level Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and Elkin is one of the most senior lawmakers in parliament.

The statement was something of an about face for Elkin, who refrained from voicing such a staunch position in support of Ukraine when he was in the governing coalition last year and played a role in crafting Israel’s relatively neutral stance on the Russian invasion.

Both lawmakers were born in Ukraine and were once close confidants of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but have since fallen out with the Likud leader, likely watering down the impact of their call. Edelstein was relegated toward the bottom of the Likud list after announcing he would challenge Netanyahu for the party’s leadership, while Elkin, who was Netanyahu’s longstanding translator in meetings with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, left for a rival party in 2020.

Thus far, Israel has agreed to provide Ukraine with $22.5 million in humanitarian aid and set up a field hospital to treat injured Ukrainians during the early days of the war. Visiting the country last week, Foreign Minister Eli 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.”

But on the same trip, Cohen avoided directly blaming Moscow while visiting Bucha, where witnesses have described widespread atrocities by Russian forces during their occupation, including the massacre of hundreds.

Israel has also bucked repeated requests from Ukraine for military support, arguing that it needs to maintain a working relationship with Russia, which controls the skies over Syria that Israel uses to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence on its northern border.

Zelensky reissued the request on Friday, saying Kyiv requires the David’s Sling medium-range anti-missile defense system from Israel in order to defeat the “Russian Goliath.”

Zelensky met with Edelstein and Elkin in Kyiv on Monday and the two issued a joint statement afterward saying they told the Ukrainian president that Israel “cannot stand on the sideline at this time.”

“Israel can and must do much more than it has done until now,” said the MKs, who lead the Israel-Ukraine parliamentary friendship committee.

“We must stop being afraid, and must take an unequivocal, active stance in line with basic moral values, as is expected of every Western country.”

“All those guilty of war crimes against humanity must bear responsibility,” they said, pointing a finger at Russia for bombing civilian areas. “As sons of Ukraine whose relatives live today in Ukraine under [Russian] shelling, we know from eyewitnesses how hard it is for you today.”

The lawmakers were also taken to a Ukrainian lab researching the Iranian-made drones used by Russia in the latter’s military offensive.

“Iran is turning Ukraine into its military testing ground and this is dangerous for Israel,” the MKS said after visiting the lab.

The lawmakers said that the Ukrainian defense ministry’s desire to cooperate with Israel on the Iranian drone threat and asked the MKs to promote the initiative in the Knesset.

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