Zelensky meets Chabad rabbis ahead of Rosh Hashanah, calls for more Israeli support

‘I will try to take care of Israelis on their way to Uman. But if Israel were to send Iron Dome, there would be a way to protect those Israelis,’ Ukraine’s leader reportedly says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets local Jewish leader ahead of Rosh Hashana, September 14, 2023 (FJCU)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets local Jewish leader ahead of Rosh Hashana, September 14, 2023 (FJCU)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky met with dozens of Chabad rabbis in the country Thursday ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, while calling for greater support from Israel.

According to rabbis who were at the meeting, Zelensky said he expected stronger backing from the Jewish state, noting it would have made it easier for the country to host the thousands of pilgrims heading to Uman.

“He said he told Netanyahu that there is a shortage of bomb shelters, but if Israel would help Ukraine, there would be no need for the shelters,” one of the rabbis at the meeting told The Times of Israel.

“I will try to take care of Israelis on their way to Uman,” Israel’s Channel 12 reported Zelensky as saying, citing two people who were present. “But if Israel were to agree to send Iron Dome, there would be a way to protect those Israelis. The responsibility to protect them is also the Israeli government’s but it doesn’t do so.”

The Ynet news site also reported the remarks, without citing sources.

Zelensky, who is Jewish himself, handed out decorations to 15 Jewish soldiers at the event.

Turning to the community leaders from cities across the country, Zelensky said: “Because of you, the glorious Jewish community continues to flourish here, and you continue to do your part both within Ukraine and abroad, for the Jews here and for the general population.”

The event was organized by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine and its head, Rabbi Meir Stambler.

Israel has been working with Ukraine on deploying a civilian aerial warning system to alert the population to an incoming attack, but without the interceptor component that destroys incoming rockets.

The system is expected to initially cover much of Kyiv, before hopefully being copied in other cities.

Iran is supplying ally Russia with attack drones that Ukraine wants to shoot down with Iron Dome.

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

In June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out supplying Ukraine with Iron Dome, also noting Israel’s concern that the vital technology could fall into the hands of Iran through its Russian allies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 27, 2023. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

“It’s important to understand that we’re concerned also with the possibility that systems that we would give to Ukraine would fall into Iranian hands and could be reverse-engineered and we would find ourselves facing Israeli systems used against Israel,” Netanyahu told The Wall Street Journal.

“If that system were to fall in the hands of Iran, then millions of Israelis would be left defenseless and imperiled,” he said.

He said the problem was not “theoretical” and pointed at anti-tank systems deployed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group that were supplied by Iran, which copied the designs from Western weapons.

“We are also helping Ukraine. We’re helping them in civilian defense, an alert, civilian alert system that prevents, that will obviate the need to get half the country in shelters for every missile fired. So we’re helping them with that.”

“We’re not neutral. We’ve expressed our sympathy and position with Ukraine, but I am saying there is a limit, limitations that we have and concerns and interests that we have,” Netanyahu said.

“My first interest, regardless of sympathy and the steps that we take, is to ensure the security of the one and only Jewish state. We have the concerns that I told you. Also, our pilots are flying right next to Russian pilots in the skies over Syria in order to block the attempts of Iran to establish a second Hezbollah front in Syria.”

Netanyahu is set to meet Zelensky next week in New York as both leaders arrive to address the UN General Assembly. There has been no comment on what the focus of those talks will be.

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