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Ukraine ‘frustrated’ by Israel, Lapid, says new envoy to Middle East

Maksym Subkh, Kyiv’s new special representative, says Lapid became more cautious once he took over as PM, but lauds humanitarian aid, hints at expanded cooperation against Tehran

Lazar Berman

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Maksym Subkh, Ukraine’s Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa (courtesy)
Maksym Subkh, Ukraine’s Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa (courtesy)

Ukraine continues to be frustrated by Israel’s stance on Russia’s invasion of the country, said Kyiv’s new envoy to the Middle East this week, but is encouraged by humanitarian efforts from Israel’s government and civil society.

“We would like to hear from Israel more open and more frank condemnation of the Russian aggression, especially on the political level,” Maksym Subkh, Ukraine’s Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa, told The Times of Israel this week, “and we would like to hear those statements coming from the top political officials of Israel.”

Subkh, an Arabic speaker who served as Ukraine’s envoy to Mauritania and Algeria until he was appointed to his new post by President Volodymyr Zelensky in July, also alleged that Prime Minister Yair Lapid has changed his tune since assuming the premiership three months ago.

“We know that Mr. Lapid really criticized Russian misdeeds when he was holding the position of foreign minister,” said Subkh. “But when he became the prime minister, his statements became more and more cautious.”

When asked about Subkh’s assertion, a spokesman for Lapid firmly rejected it  pointing out that the Foreign Ministry condemned on Tuesday the results of referenda in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, saying Jerusalem “recognizes the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and will not recognize the results of the referendums in its eastern districts.”

Lapid continues to serve as foreign minister after becoming prime minister in July.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, February 24, 2022. (Niv Musman/GPO)

Subkh added that Ukraine “feels frustrated about Israel not being ready and not having participated in the Second Crimea Platform summit.”

The August 23rd meeting, attended by senior officials from all G7 countries, the EU, UN and NATO, was an opportunity for Western leaders to come together to condemn Russia’s invasion.

Subkh was hopeful that Israel would join the October parliamentary summit of the Crimea Platform in Croatia, but an official in the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel that it was unlikely that Israel would attend.

The gathering would “show Israel’s support to the non-recognition of the Russian occupation, not only of Crimea, but also the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine,” Subkh argued. “It is very important as well to persuade and to convince Israel to join the international sanctions imposed on Russia, as Israel has never shown readiness to join those sanctions.”

A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP Photo)

The envoy also blasted Israel’s policies toward Ukrainian refugees early in the war, calling them “really very disturbing.”

In March, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked introduced a cap on Ukrainian refugees entering the country and required them to fill out a form before heading for Israel. The moves drew fierce criticism from Ukraine, which said it flouted the visa agreement between the two countries.

Israel’s Supreme Court ultimately overturned Shaked’s policies.

Turning to Israel’s refusal to sell weapons to Ukraine, Subkh said Ukraine is “expecting Israel to lift those restrictions, and to allow exporting companies which produce military equipment to be able to export that equipment to Ukraine to help our armed forces to counter the Russian aggression and to be more resilient.”

Workers load packages of Israeli humanitarian aid for Ukraine onto El Al aircraft, at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, on March 1, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

His criticism echoes that made by other Ukrainian officials throughout the war. On Thursday, Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk complained to Army Radio that “we haven’t received any military aid from Israel in the last seven months…the Israelis only talk about Uman.”

During a June speech to Hebrew University students, Zelensky lamented that “unfortunately, for most items of assistance we would want to get from Israel, we can’t say we’ve gotten any of that assistance.”

Jerusalem has avoided providing direct military aid to Kyiv — including offensive arms or advanced defensive technology —in an attempt to avoid sparking a crisis with Moscow. It has sent helmets, protective vests, mine protection suits,  gas masks and hazmat filtration systems.

The Ukrainian diplomat reserved some praise for Israel. He commended Jerusalem for pro-Ukrainian votes in the United Nations, including a March 2 General Assembly resolution co-sponsored by Israel that condemned Russia’s invasion.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, appears on a screen as he delivers a remote speech, during the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 1, 2022. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, Pool)

In April, Israel voted to expel Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.

He also praised the humanitarian aid Israel has sent. “Israel managed to send a field hospital to the western parts of Ukraine, which operated for more than six weeks. Also, about 100 tons of humanitarian supplies were received by Ukraine directly from the Israeli government.”

Subkh lauded the collaboration between Israeli and Ukrainian universities, training seminars for Ukrainians in Israel in the fields of psychology, education and water management, and aid provided by international Jewish organizations.

The special representative hinted at the possibility that increased Israeli support could result in a more supportive Ukrainian stance in the UN.

“We are ready to discuss all the options of future cooperation and coordination of our positions in the UN,” he said. “But first we need to see practical steps taken by the Israeli government towards condemning the Russian aggression.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses students and faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on June 23, 2022. (Screenshot)

That potential support would not include a move of its embassy to Jerusalem, however: “Ukraine adheres to the relevant UN resolutions including those which determine the status of Jerusalem, and we believe that the status of Jerusalem should be identified and recognized through talks and negotiations including direct talks between Israel and Palestine.”

Subkh explained that “it is a principal position of Ukraine not to take one-sided steps towards any conflict or any issue which is sensible in terms of future policy of Ukraine in the region. So we maintain good relations with the Arab world countries as well as with Israel.”

Israel has made similar arguments to explain its attempts to maintain open channels with both Kyiv and Moscow.

‘Dire consequences’ for Iran

There seems to be more room for cooperation on Iran, however.

Ties between Ukraine and Iran have taken a drastic turn for the worse in recent weeks, as Kyiv and US intelligence accuse Iran of providing Russia with drones that have been used in deadly attacks against Ukrainian citizens. While Iran initially denied it, the head of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard boasted about arming the world’s top powers.

This undated photograph released by the Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine. (Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate via AP)

A spokesman for Zelensky, Sergii Nykyforov, wrote on Facebook: “The use of Iranian-made weapons by Russian troops… are steps taken by Iran against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state, as well as against the life and health of Ukrainian citizens.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted that Tehran was now a supporter of “Russian Nazism and the murder of peaceful citizens.”

Last Friday, Ukraine announced it was taking diplomatic action against the Islamic Republic, revoking its ambassador’s accreditation and ordering a significant reduction of embassy staff.

“We ask our partners not to allow Iran to be engaged or involved in the war against Ukraine by supplying military equipment or any kind of military aid to Russia because by doing this, any country, including Iran, could be considered as a part of this conflict,” said Subkh.

Israel Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky is interviewed at his office in Kyiv, on February 16, 2022. (Screenshot, Ynet)

When Ukrainian intelligence determines foreign weapons were used by Russia to attack Ukrainian targets, Subkh continued, “that will have very dire consequences for those countries do that, and that’s why our cooperation and coordination with Israel is ongoing and we would like to see it more broad and more active and more open.”

Axios reported earlier this month that Subkh asked Israel to share intelligence on Iranian drones during a September 7 meeting with Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky and Simona Halperin, the Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director General for Eurasia.

Subkh and Brodsky have met on one other occasion since the former’s appointment.

“He raised the same points with us,” Brodsky told The Times of Israel.

Brodsky also invited Subkh to Israel but no plans have been made.

On Iran’s nuclear program, however, Ukraine does not agree with the Israeli position that the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran should be scrapped. “We are quite concerned about Iran’s activities, including nuclear activities, and we urge Iran to adhere to the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” said Subkh.

Mohammad Eslami, head of Iran’s nuclear agency (AEOI), left, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, leave the International Atomic Energy’s (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner, File)

The diplomat did express alarm over Iranian enrichment, and with Tehran’s unwillingness to cooperate with IAEA probes into traces of uranium at three undeclared military sites.

Subkh said that his appointment shows “how deeply we are concerned and interested in developing our bilateral and multilateral relations with the Middle Eastern and African states in the light of the Russian aggression.”

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