'This is the only country that behaves like that'

Ukraine’s envoy walks out of Israeli briefing over Gantz’s comments

Yevgen Korniychuk incensed by defense minister supposedly referring to Russian invasion as a ‘conflict’; minister’s office says he discussed mediation efforts with both sides

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gives a statement to the media on the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, on March 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)
Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gives a statement to the media on the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, on March 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk walked out of a briefing to foreign ambassadors given by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday, after Gantz supposedly called the Russian invasion a “conflict” and even-handedly discussed Israel’s ties with both parties.

“Mr. Gantz started to talk about the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and that they are talking with both Ukrainian and Russian friends or colleagues,” Korniychuk told The Times of Israel.

“Listen, if on the 42nd day of the war, with the bloodshed and massacre that Russia has been doing against innocent Ukrainian people, you are still calling this a conflict, there is really nothing to talk about,” Korniychuk continued.

Gantz’s spokesperson denied that he used such language. “He spoke about dialogue with both countries and about mediation efforts,” she emphasized.

Both Lapid’s and Gantz’s offices declined to provide the full text of their remarks about Ukraine at the briefing. According to a joint statement, “Lapid provided the ambassadors with information about the humanitarian aid that Israel is providing to Ukraine and reiterated Israel’s condemnation of the Russian invasion and war crimes.”

On Tuesday, Lapid explicitly accused Russia of war crimes in the Kyiv suburb Bucha. “Russian forces committed war crimes against a defenseless civilian population. I strongly condemn these war crimes,” he said, speaking alongside his Cypriot and Greek counterparts in Athens.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at an event for foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel, March 6, 2022 (Sivan Shahor Anava/GPO)

Korniychuk said Wednesday that no one from Lapid’s or Gantz’s office had reached out to him.

The two senior Israeli ministers were discussing Israel’s stance on Iran, Ukraine, terrorism and more with 80 foreign ambassadors at the Air Force House in Herzliya.

“It’s really sad for me, because this gentleman clearly has lots of the information” on the conflict, Korniychuk lamented, referring to Gantz. “Israel is having a unique position from the rest of the Western world. This is the only country that behaves like that.”

Korniychuk also said that Gantz had refused to meet with a high-level Ukrainian delegation that was visiting Israel over the past week. “He says he has no time to meet.”

Sergey Shefir, an aide to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, former ambassador to Israel Hennadii Nadolenko, and Jewish parliamentarian Olga Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk were part of the visiting delegation. They met with Lapid, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, Kharkiv-born Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin and the parliamentary friendship group.

A woman hugs a Ukrainian serviceman after a convoy of military and aid vehicles arrived in the formerly Russian-occupied Kyiv suburb of Bucha, Ukraine, April 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Korniychuk has not shied away from criticizing senior Israeli officials during the war.

After Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman last week refused to outright condemn alleged Russian atrocities in Bucha and other cities, the ambassador said: “I invite Mr. Liberman to come to Ukraine. We will take him with a convoy to Bucha and to other places where he can see for himself the bodies of civilians and meet the women who were tied up and raped. Maybe then he will know what happened.”

Screen capture from video of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at the opening of a meeting of the ministerial socioeconomic committee, February 15, 2022. (YouTube)

Time for Plan B on Iran

In the Herzliya briefing, Gantz stressed the need for a credible “Plan B” should talks in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program fail.

“In the last year, Iran has enriched its uranium stockpile to 50KG at 60%,” he said. “There is no vacuum – if an agreement is not signed, then Plan B must be activated.”

Russian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mikhail Ulyanov speaks to journalists prior to the start of the quarterly Board of Governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, March 7, 2022. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

“Since August 2021, Iran has raced forward,” Gantz continued. “Iran has increased its enriched uranium stockpile to 50 kg at 60%. We are running against time. The international community must insist on a solid agreement.”

If that agreement does not come about, Gantz said, the international community must use “economic pressure, intel, diplomatic pressure, power projection and regional counterterrorism efforts.”

Gantz also addressed the recent terror wave, which claimed 11 lives late last month in three separate attacks. It was the deadliest period since the Second Intifada.

“We are taking the measures necessary to prevent terror attacks, including intelligence, preemptive operations and defense,” he said.

A police officer walks with IDF soldiers as they patrol in Jerusalem on April 1, 2022, following several recent terror attacks. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz presented the assembled diplomats with recent confidence-building measures Israel has implemented to support the Palestinian Authority in the past year. He urged the international community to support the PA economically in the interest of stability.

Lapid highlighted steps the government is taking to ensure freedom of worship during the month of Ramadan.

Israel security services are concerned about the heightened risk of violence during the holy month.

Last May, tensions around Ramadan and Jerusalem escalated into an 11-day war with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers and the worst internecine clashes in decades between Jewish and Arab Israelis.

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