'We are in a much better position than we were before'

Zelensky ‘happy’ in wake of Netanyahu meeting, Ukrainian official says

Sit-down at UN General Assembly improved relations, diplomat states, though ‘It is not a breakthrough’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky meet on the UN General Assembly sidelines on September 19, 2023. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky meet on the UN General Assembly sidelines on September 19, 2023. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Israel and Ukraine’s ties have improved after the leaders of the two countries met in New York two weeks ago, a Ukrainian diplomat told The Times of Israel on Monday.

“It is not a breakthrough,” said the diplomat, “but we are in a much better position than we were before this.”

Netanyahu and Zelensky met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, with Zelensky describing the meeting as “good” as he exited the room. The meeting was the first between the two leaders since Netanyahu returned to power in December of last year.

According to Netanyahu’s office, the meeting was “friendly” and Israel pledged to continue to provide humanitarian aid, including assistance in dealing with land mines.

“Zelensky was happy about it,” said the diplomat on Tuesday. ‘The Ukrainian leadership is happy.”

Details on what transpired at the meeting to encourage Zelensky were slim.

A different diplomat revealed to The Times of Israel that Zelensky told UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps during their Kyiv meeting last week that he and Netanyahu had a very good meeting.

Britain’s newly appointed Defense Secretary Grant Shapps leaves Number 10 Downing Street in London on August 31, 2023. (Daniel Leal/AFP)

“They reached an agreement on public security and people’s welfare,” said the Ukrainian official. The official declined to elaborate, but did mention that they also discussed cooperation on demining activities.

The Ukrainian official also said that progress has been made on the civilian alert system Israel is developing for Ukraine. The system was tested last week by the Kyiv municipal government and will undergo broader tests in the city in the coming days.

The civil alert system will initially cover much of Kyiv, a Ukrainian official said in June, and then will hopefully be copied in other cities.

The system in Ukraine is set for wider coverage than the system deployed in Israel, and will trigger alerts in a general area where an incoming Russian missile or attack drone is expected to hit; the system in Israel works with more precision.

The Israeli warning system uses a mix of radar and electro-optic devices to detect rocket, missile, and drone launches, classify the size and the threat they represent, and pinpoint on a map the areas that are in danger.

Firefighters extinguish a fire in buildings that were damaged following a Russian missile attack in a village outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on August 30, 2023. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP)

Citizens in those areas receive warnings through sirens, alerts on their phones, and messages on TV and radio.

In recent years, the system’s accuracy has been upgraded so that it can limit its alerts to specific areas of large cities.

Then-defense minister Benny Gantz first announced last year that Israel could supply Ukraine with the early warning system, an offer reiterated by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during his visit to Kyiv in February.

Ukraine has long sought missile interceptor capabilities, but Israel has so far refused, seeking to avoid overly antagonizing Russia. This hesitance is mainly seen as linked to Israel’s strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, where Russian forces largely control the airspace. Israel is one of the few countries that maintains relatively good relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, and Russia.

Netanyahu has bucked repeated requests by Zelensky to visit Ukraine, making him one of the only Western leaders who has not made the trip.

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