New government said reviewing Israel’s policies on Russian invasion of Ukraine

Axios says policy review includes possibility of supplying defense weaponry to Ukraine, but Israeli official predicts major shift unlikely, rules out missile defense systems

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Collage/AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Collage/AP)

The new government is reviewing Israel’s policies regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the possibility of supplying Kyiv with defensive weapons systems, according to a report Thursday.

Citing three unnamed Israeli officials, the Axios news site reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the policy review shortly after returning to office in late December, and brought up the matter with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken when they met Monday in Jerusalem.

The premier reportedly emphasized to Blinken that his government will not reduce humanitarian aid and support for Ukraine compared to the previous government, with a senior Israeli official saying US President Joe Biden’s administration knows Netanyahu will not shift Israel’s position closer to Russia.

A senior Israeli official cited in the report also said a growing number of defense and intelligence officials would like Jerusalem to help Kyiv militarily without causing a divide with Moscow, such as through indirect transfers of Israeli-manufactured systems.

It was not clear what armaments were under consideration, but the official said the policy review was unlikely to lead to any significant change and stressed Israel will not send missile defense systems, as Kyiv has lobbied for.

Netanyahu hinted at a potential policy shift in an interview with CNN aired Tuesday, saying he was “looking into” providing Kyiv with “other kinds of aid” besides humanitarian help, amid concerns over Israel’s “complex relationship” with Russia and its need to retain “freedom of action” in Syria in its effort to “keep Iran in check.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Jerusalem on January 30, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Pool/AFP)

When meeting Netanyahu on Monday, Blinken obliquely urged Israel to expand its support for Kyiv, saying that “Russia’s ongoing atrocities only underscore the importance of providing support for all of Ukraine’s needs – humanitarian, economic, and security.”

Blinken raised the matter again when later meeting with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, gently critiquing Israel’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war once again. “We appreciate Israel’s humanitarian assistance,” said Blinken, adding that “we look forward to discussing what more can we do.”

Israel has sought to maintain a neutral stance on the war, keeping channels open with both Russia and Ukraine. Israel refused to arm Kyiv over fears of angering Moscow, concerned that doing so would jeopardize its decade-long campaign in Syria to prevent the entrenchment of Iran on its northern border. Russia, which has advanced air defenses in Syria, largely refrained from interfering with Israeli airstrikes.

The issue has strained ties between Jerusalem and Kyiv, as the Ukrainians have consistently pressed Israel to provide more defense aid.

Following the CNN interview, Russia warned Israel against arming Ukraine.

“We say that all countries that supply weapons [to Ukraine] should understand that we will consider these [weapons] to be legitimate targets for Russia’s armed forces,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.

The Kremlin has warned of an escalation in the conflict as Ukraine’s Western partners vow to supply more weapons to Kyiv.

“Any attempts — implemented or even unrealized but announced for the supply of additional, new or some other weapons — will lead to an escalation of this crisis. And everyone should be aware of this,” Zakharova said.

Ukrainian policemen watch firefighters working in a house in flames following Russian shelling in the city of Kherson, on January 29, 2023. (Genya Savilov/AFP)

The warning from Moscow also comes after reports in recent weeks that Israel has refused requests from the US to hand over 10 Hawk anti-aircraft batteries and hundreds of interceptor missiles for delivery to Ukraine.

However, The New York Times reported last month that the US military was quietly shipping hundreds of thousands of artillery shells to Ukraine from a massive stockpile it stores in Israel.

AFP contributed to this report.

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