'We can save Ukrainian lives if we transfer those batteries'

Senators say Israel blocking transfer of US-owned Iron Dome batteries to Ukraine

Graham and Van Hollen say they’re not asking Israel to offer its own air defense equipment to Kyiv, but to revoke veto barring the US from sending systems to Ukraine

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers stand near a battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system in southern Israel on August 6, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers stand near a battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system in southern Israel on August 6, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)

A pair of US senators said Friday that Israel was blocking Washington from transferring two US-owned Iron Dome batteries to Ukraine to boost Kyiv’s air defense against Russia.

“We can save more Ukrainian lives today if we transfer those batteries. However, due to serious concerns, the Government of Israel has blocked the United States from transferring these batteries,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen wrote in a letter to the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

While funded by the US, the Iron Dome was developed by Israel, and Jerusalem has a veto over whether the US can sell the missile defense system to other nations.

Israel has blocked transfers to other countries due to fears the sensitive technology could fall into enemy hands.

While other air defense platforms such as Israel’s Spyder system are capable of combating the Russian missile threat, Ukraine has repeatedly requested to purchase Iron Dome, and the Biden administration has been lobbying Israel to heed the call, according to a senior US official.

In their Friday letter, Graham and Van Hollen pointed to testimony a senior US military official delivered in May to the Armed Services Committee during which he said that the US currently has two Iron Dome batteries that it could deploy in Ukraine.

“To be clear, we are not asking Israel to transfer its own Iron Dome systems which are critical to their own security, but simply to allow the United States to transfer our own batteries to help the people of Ukraine,” they wrote.

“If not practicable to transfer these assets to Ukraine, we ask that you look at other ways to assist, including moving them to another United States ally under the control and supervision of our own forces, thus freeing up other United States air defense assets to be transferred to bolster Ukraine’s air defense needs and save more Ukrainian lives,” the letter said.

Emergency workers extinguish a fire after a Russian rocket hit in a storehouse building in Odesa, Ukraine, June 14, 2023. (Ukrainian Emergency Situation Press Office via AP)

A senior Israeli official told the Haaretz daily on Monday that Israel was not aware of the senators’ proposal.

After an ostensible warming of ties under the Netanyahu government, Kyiv on Sunday infuriated Israel by blasting Jerusalem’s recent policies toward Moscow, saying it has chosen the “path of close cooperation” with Russia.

In a post to its Facebook page, Ukraine’s Embassy in Israel wrote that “the so-called ‘neutrality’ of Israel[‘s] government is considered as a clear pro-Russian position.”

The embassy pointed at “a series of rather controversial events that took place in the first half of 2023” which it viewed negatively.

The embassy called Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s February trip to Kyiv “fruitless” and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of making “entirely fictional and speculative assumptions” in a recent interview.

In an interview last week with The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu said, “We also have concerns that any systems that we give to Ukraine would be used against us because they could fall into Iranian hands… and by the way, that’s not a theoretical possibility. It actually happened with the Western anti-tank weapons that we now find at our borders. So we have to be very careful here.”

Ukraine’s Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu’s claims were baseless.

In response to the embassy post, the Foreign Ministry plans to summon Korniychuk for a reprimand in the coming days.

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