Ukraine-Russia war: Zelensky disappointed with Israel's response

"I expected greater support from Prime Minister [Naftali] Bennett," Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky said.

 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky talks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022.  (photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky talks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022.
(photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday expressed disappointment at the Israeli leadership’s response to his requests for aid as his country fights off a Russian invasion.

“I expected greater support from Prime Minister [Naftali] Bennett,” he said at a press conference.

“I saw a nice picture of Jews wrapped in [Ukrainian] flags by the Western Wall,” said Zelensky, who is Jewish. “They prayed for us, and I thank them for it. Our relations with the Israeli leadership are not bad, but they are being tested in a time of need. I did not feel that the Israeli prime minister is wrapped in our flag.”

The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment.

Zelensky’s remarks came on the eighth day of Russia’s war on his country and the day after he released a call in Hebrew for Jews of the world to speak out on behalf of Ukraine and against the Russian attack.

 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen during a televised address to the nation, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 14, 2022. (credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen during a televised address to the nation, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 14, 2022. (credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)

Bennett on Thursday called for a swift end to hostilities before the war gets worse and Ukraine is destroyed.

“There is a terrible war in Ukraine right now,” he said at the Cybertech Global TLV 2022 Conference. “War is a terrible thing.”

“In Israel, we have experienced quite a few wars, and I can share my main insight: Wars are easy to start but very hard to end,” Bennett said. “Things look bad at the moment on the ground, but it is important to understand that if leaders of the world do not act fast, it can be much worse.

“I am talking about the loss of many human lives, total destruction of Ukraine and millions of refugees, but it is not too late,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the big players in the world to act fast to take both sides off the battlefield and onto the negotiating table.”

Bennett has spoken with Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin twice since the start of the war last Thursday. He has been careful to speak of the horrors of war and his solidarity with the Ukrainian people without condemning Russia.

Israel wants to maintain its ties with Russia, particularly given its significant military presence in neighboring Syria. A deconfliction mechanism exists between the two countries that allow the IDF to operate against Iran and its proxies in Syria.

Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov on Thursday told reporters in Tel Aviv this mechanism would continue because it was in the interest of both parties and helps ensure “the safety and security of our army.”

Israel on Thursday prepared to set up a field hospital to help wounded Ukrainians, in addition to the 100 tons of humanitarian aid, it sent earlier in the week. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has instructed that the hospital be set up as quickly as possible.

“It will be operated by civilians,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told KAN News on Thursday. “Preparations are underway in the Health Ministry. There are many volunteers, medical professionals, and medics who want to go.”

The field hospital will be managed entirely by civilians and not by the IDF Medical Corps, he said.

“Our aid is coordinated with the Ukrainian government, and we are sending it through Poland at this point,” Horowitz said. “It is part of our expression of solidarity with Ukraine.”

Ukraine has asked Israel to establish a field hospital, and the Foreign Ministry is preparing an additional humanitarian aid package for Ukraine. Other items expected to be in the next round of humanitarian aid are generators that Israel bought, which will be brought to Ukraine directly from Europe, a diplomatic source confirmed. In addition, Israel plans to continue to send medical equipment, medications, and bandages, the source said.

Ukraine has also asked for protective gear, including helmets and ceramic vests, which Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk said Europe has run out of, and weapons.

Israel condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a statement and at the UN General Assembly. But Jerusalem has stopped short at providing any military aid because of its concern over threatening coordination with Russia in Syria.

Israel’s vote on Wednesday in support of a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russian aggression had not disrupted the deconfliction mechanism, Viktorov said.

Moscow understood Israel’s concern for the safety of it citizens and the Jewish community in Ukraine, he said.

Russia had “some reasons to expect from the Israeli authorities to understand better than others its decision” to act militarily in Ukraine, he added.

The United States has pushed Israel to stand firmly in support of its very public opposition to Moscow’s invasion.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides publicly revealed the extent of Israel’s support for its UNGA resolution condemning Russian aggression when he thanked Israel for helping secure votes to ensure significant passage of that text on Wednesday.

The US State Department said, “We applaud Israel, Kuwait [and] Qatar for standing [with] Ukraine [and] co-sponsoring the [UNGA] resolution condemning Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked [and] unjustified war against Ukraine. We are united [and] more resolved than ever to support Ukraine [and] stop Russia’s aggression.”

Out of the UN 193 states, 141 approved the measure and only five – Russia, Syria, Belarus, Eritrea and North Korea – opposed it. Israel was also among close to 100 nations that co-signed the UNGA resolution.

The resolution called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a Russian withdrawal from all sovereign Ukrainian territory. It also condemned Russia’s willingness to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces.

Last week, Israel ignored a US request to add its name to a Biden administration-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine. Dozens of non-UNSC members signed onto that text, which failed to pass.

The United Arab Emirates, which holds this month’s rotating presidency at the UNSC, had abstained on the failed Security Council resolution but then changed its stance in support of Ukraine.

“We voted for this resolution, and we join with member states in making this appeal to peace,” the UAE envoy said.

Other Middle East countries that supported the text were Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Zelensky has repeatedly asked Bennett to serve as an intermediary between his country and Russia, a message that the prime minister passed on to Putin, most recently on Wednesday.

Viktorov did not disqualify Bennett as a mediator but said he believed it was premature to discuss such a role.

In his conversation with reporters, Viktorov denied reports that the Russian military had attacked civilian targets in Ukraine and accused the government in Kyiv of “unleashing terror against its citizens.”

“We want to live in peace with the people of Ukraine,” he said.

When Moscow spoke of Nazis in Ukraine, it was referring to the government’s support for neo-Nazis, Viktorov said, adding that antisemitism exists in Ukraine.

“We are not calling him [Zelensky] a Nazi,” he said. “But it is disingenuous to deny antisemitism just on the basis of the fact that Ukraine’s president is Jewish,” he added.