Zelensky seeking Netanyahu visit to Kyiv, Israeli official says

Ukrainian president extends informal invitation to prime minister during meetings with foreign minister, Knesset members, as country presses for more help against Russian rockets

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint press conference with France's President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris on February 8, 2023. (SARAH MEYSSONNIER / POOL / AFP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint press conference with France's President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris on February 8, 2023. (SARAH MEYSSONNIER / POOL / AFP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told visiting Israeli officials that he would like to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit Kyiv, an Israeli diplomatic source told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Zelensky first extended the informal invitation during a meeting last week with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. On Monday, he reiterated the invitation during an hour-long discussion with Likud’s Yuli Edelstein and National Unity MK Ze’ev Elkin, said the Israeli official.

The official said that there are currently no concrete plans in the works for Netanyahu to visit Ukraine, which has lobbied hard for Jerusalem to up its level of aid, including providing defensive weaponry.

Another Israeli official told The Times of Israel earlier this week that Zelensky is not interested in a photo opportunity with Netanyahu, but would host him if Israel delivers on recent promises for more aid to Kyiv.

Ukraine is also asking Israel to speed up delivery of a civilian early warning system that Jerusalem has promised to provide in lieu of anti-missile systems. While in Kyiv, Cohen said it would take between 3-6 months for the system to arrive.

Ukraine has reportedly yet to send a team to Israel to discuss the matter.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen meets with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Kyiv and the West have pushed for Israel to provide elements of its vaunted missile defense array, saying it could save countless lives from Russian rocket attacks on civilian homes and infrastructure.

On Sunday, six Ukrainians were killed in the southern city of Kherson when a rocket struck a busy street, underlining the urgency of the requested help.

The airstrike warning system would be similar to the technology Israel uses to warn civilians of rocket attacks.

Israel has bucked repeated requests from Ukraine for military support, arguing that it needs to maintain a working relationship with Russia, which controls the skies over Syria that Israel uses to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence on its northern border.

Thus far, Israel has agreed to provide Ukraine with $22.5 million in humanitarian aid and set up a field hospital to treat injured Ukrainians during the early days of the war. Last week, Cohen announced new measures of support, including a $200 million loan guarantee for healthcare and civilian infrastructure.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during a signing ceremony following their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Aug 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

On Tuesday, Elkin and Edelstein issued a joint call for Israel to provide significantly more support to Kyiv, including military assistance, one of the first calls by lawmakers — in the coalition or the opposition — for Israel to take a more unequivocal position on the war.

“We support tangible cooperation between Israel and Ukraine in air defense and missile defense and in more defensive measures,” they told Zelensky, according to a joint statement.

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein (L), Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky (C) and National Unity MK Ze’ev Elkin meet in Kyiv on February 20, 2023. (Yuli Edelstein/Twitter)

The meeting was conducted in Russian, and was relatively informal, sources told The Times of Israel.

The statement was something of an about-face for Elkin, who refrained from voicing such a staunch position in support of Ukraine when he was in the governing coalition last year and played a role in crafting Israel’s relatively neutral stance on the Russian invasion.

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