Since the onset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel has towed the diplomatic line as it tries to avoid provoking tensions with Moscow. While the Jewish state has provided ample humanitarian aid to Kyiv, it has stopped short of providing the level of military and monetary assistance requested by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Jerusalem has pointed to its coordination with Moscow over Syria as the most significant factor impacting its stance of “neutrality.” In recent months, Ukrainian officials have blasted the Jewish state for not staunchly taking its side rhetorically and materially. Due to its own security concerns and regional deterrence ambitions, Israel is unlikely to acquiesce completely to Ukraine.
Ukraine Ambassador Presses Israel for Aid
In mid-June, a high-level Israeli Defense Ministry official participated in a U.S.-led meeting of 50 countries in Brussels. The Ukraine Defense Contact Group discussed how to support Ukraine amidst Russia’s invasion. In the same week, the Ukrainian government submitted an official request to Israel asking for a loan of $5 million. While the request is still being “examined,” Ukrainian officials have not been shy to criticize the Jewish state’s perceived lack of support. Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, is the official responsible for submitting the loan request, which occurred one week following his harsh public remarks aimed at the Jewish state.
In early June, Korniychuk asserted at a Tel Aviv press conference that “While Russia slaughters our citizens, the Israeli government remains in its comfort zone and refrains from providing Ukraine with minimal defensive assistance. We ask Israel for a defensive tool in the form of an Iron Dome and similar defensive tools,” Korniychuk continued. “As Israel protects the residents of the Gaza Strip from Hamas fire, we must protect our citizens, women, children and men.” The ambassador added that although the Israeli people display “love and empathy,” its government actions do not match the rhetoric.
Korniychak is likely referring to Israel’s Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has rejected the possibility of sending military aid to Ukraine despite the heavy support to do so. According to the Jerusalem Post, both Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have pushed the Israeli government to do more for Ukraine. Gantz insists that Israel’s security situation in Syria is partly dependent on its “neutral” relations with Moscow.
Israel and Moscow Trade Jabs
Israel has recently ramped up its operations targeting Iranian assets in Syria. As Israel’s most critical regional adversary, the Islamic Republic of Iran poses a greater threat to the Jewish state from its border. Therefore, the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) actions in Damascus directly impact the country’s security projection.
Russia maintains a big presence in Syria, which Israel tries to avoid confrontation with. As Israel has taken a more publicly active role in supporting Ukraine’s defense, Moscow has been quick to condemn the country’s role in Syria. In mid-June, Russia circulated a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s alleged role in the bombing of a Damascus airport linked to Iran-backed militias. This move by Moscow followed Israel’s vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the UN, a move the country initially avoided. Israel’s continued criticisms of Moscow’s invasion could coincide with similar retaliatory measures.
Ukraine Wants Israel’s Iron Dome
Perhaps Ukraine’s most pertinent request for Israel has been to access Iron Dome technology. Back in March, Zelensky first requested this cutting-edge missile defense technology. The Iron Dome can thwart approximately 90 percent of the incoming missile and rocket attacks, making it the most advanced missile defense system across the globe. The Iron Dome has been instrumental in protecting Israeli communities against Gaza-launched attacks since its entry into service. Zelensky has requested the Iron Dome technology from Israel to help alleviate some of Russia’s barrages on Ukraine.
Israel has avoided sending offensive or defensive arms, including the Dome’s technology, to Kyiv for several reasons. The Dome’s effectiveness in Ukraine would be limited since the country’s size and widespread Russian-attack points are much greater than Israel’s. Additionally, delivering this defensive-missile aid to Ukraine would signal its disavowal from Moscow, harming Israel’s mission sets in Syria.
While Israel has denied Ukraine of acquiring Iron Dome technology, it has contributed a host of humanitarian services to the country. In March, Israel’s Sheba Medical Center and staff from the Foreign Ministry set up a multi-million dollar field hospital inside Ukraine. In May, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced an additional series of measures that would provide Ukraine with more aid. Over 100 tons of supplies, including medical equipment, water purification systems, and winter coats were delivered to Ukraine from Israel. Later in May, Israel sent 2,000 helmets and 500 flak jackets to Ukraine.
Since Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in February, the international community has largely supported the Ukrainian Forces and condemned Moscow into isolation. Since Israel has solely contributed non-lethal aid to Ukraine, it is unlikely to shift gears in the weeks ahead.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.