Ukraine claims Israeli defense minister rebuffing requests to speak with counterpart

Officials say Oleksii Reznikov has been trying to arrange call with Yoav Gallant since current government assumed office; Defense Ministry says no official request made

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on a phone call with mayors and leaders of communities in southern Israel on May 9, 2023 (Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on a phone call with mayors and leaders of communities in southern Israel on May 9, 2023 (Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry)

Ukraine has been unable to arrange a phone conversation between the country’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, Ukrainian officials told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

Reznikov’s aides have been trying to coordinate the call since Gallant came into office in late 2022, they said.

The officials confirmed a report last week in the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom that the two defense ministers hadn’t spoken since Gallant assumed his post.

But a Defense Ministry official denied that there have been repeated official requests from Kyiv.

“At the beginning of Gallant’s tenure, there were some initial conversations that didn’t advance, and since then there have been no further requests,” the official told The Times of Israel.

According to Israel Hayom, Reznikov himself sent a request to Israel for a conversation with Gallant.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov attends the meeting of the Ukraine Security Consultative Group at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, April 26, 2022. (Michael Probst/AP)

A likely reason for Gallant to avoid a potential conversation is the fact that Israel has resisted providing weapons to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022, and has no desire to be pressed on the issue.

Israel’s hesitance is rooted in — among other concerns — its strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, where Russian forces largely control the airspace.

The US and European countries have been pushing Israel to increase its support, apparently including supplying weapons to Kyiv, according to reports. Western countries have poured weapons into Ukraine as its military it holds up the Russian advance and begins its counteroffensive.

Israel’s refusal to send weapons has contributed to the perception that the Jewish state has staked out a neutral position on the war.

People take cover at metro station during a Russian rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, May 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

As the war progresses, Israel has increasingly insisted that it is in fact on Ukraine’s side, providing over $22.5 million in humanitarian aid and setting up a field hospital to treat wounded Ukrainians in the early days of the war. In February, it voted alongside 140 other countries for a UN General Assembly resolution drafted by Kyiv calling for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

During a February visit to Kyiv — a significant gesture in and of itself — Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced that Israel would “assist Ukraine with developing a smart early warning system.” The airstrike warning system would be similar to the technology Israel uses to warn civilians of rocket attacks.

That system is on track to be deployed in September, a Ukrainian official told The Times of Israel last Wednesday.

That timeline is weeks behind the initial expectations of deployment over the summer, and Ukrainian diplomats and security officials are working to speed up the process.

Ukraine has also long sought missile interceptor capabilities, but Israel has so far refused, seeking to avoid overly antagonizing Russia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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