Israel sends Defense Min. official to US-led conference on Ukraine aid

Jerusalem's reticence to help Ukraine militarily while its closest partners have done otherwise stems from Russia's power in Syria.

 WORKERS LOAD packages of Israeli humanitarian aid destined for Ukraine, at Ben-Gurion Airport this week. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
WORKERS LOAD packages of Israeli humanitarian aid destined for Ukraine, at Ben-Gurion Airport this week.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

A high-level Israeli Defense Ministry official took part in a US-led meeting of 50 countries on Wednesday over how to support Ukraine in its war against Russia, despite Jerusalem not providing military aid to Kyiv.

Defense Ministry Policy and Political-Military Bureau Deputy Director Ilan Mezushan participated in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Brussels. He can be seen in a video posted to the Twitter account of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Austin said the participants discussed “how we can fortify support for Ukraine as they defend themselves from Russia’s unprovoked invasion. Since the contact group first came together three months ago, we’ve built tremendous momentum for donations and delivery of military assistance, and after this meeting, we’re not just going to maintain that momentum, we’re going to move even faster and push even harder.”

Israel is known to have participated in a previous American-led meeting on Ukraine’s defense, but has not provided military aid to Kyiv beyond helmets and protective vests. Israel has sent several planeloads of humanitarian aid and built a field hospital in Ukraine.

Jerusalem’s reticence to help Ukraine militarily while its closest partners have done otherwise stems from Russia’s major military presence across Israel’s northern border with Syria. Israel conducts strikes on Iranian targets and weapons convoys in Syria, and has a deconfliction mechanism to avoid a confrontation with Russia.

 MILITARY AID, delivered as part of the United States' security assistance to Ukraine, is unloaded from a plane at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv yesterday. (credit: SERHIY TAKHMAZOV/REUTERS) MILITARY AID, delivered as part of the United States' security assistance to Ukraine, is unloaded from a plane at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv yesterday. (credit: SERHIY TAKHMAZOV/REUTERS)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has also argued that Israel’s good relationship with Russia has left open an effective channel of communication between the West and Russian President Vladimir Putin that should not be jeopardized. One known positive result of Bennett’s continued contact with Putin was the opening of a humanitarian corridor to evacuate Ukrainians from Mariupol’s Azovstal Iron and Steelworks in May.

In Security Cabinet meetings, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have called for Israel to send military aid to Ukraine, but Bennett rejected the possibility. He told the ministers that he was concerned Russia would shoot down Israel Air Force planes. Lapid responded that the IAF should find a solution, but Bennett said there isn’t one yet, a senior diplomatic source said.

Another official said that Bennett has asked the rhetorical question: who will help Israeli pilots when they’re in danger? His answer was no one.

All three ministers’ spokespeople said they do not comment on closed Security Cabinet meetings. A source familiar with the exchange said it took place three months ago, at the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Recent Ukraine-Israel communications

Ukraine also asked Israel for a loan of half-a-billion dollars last week in a letter conveyed by Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk. The Prime Minister’s Office said it is checking the possibility.

Japan has provided Ukraine with a $600 million loan, Germany provided €300 million, and Canada provided $800 million.

Moscow reprimanded Israeli Ambassador Alex Ben-Zvi on Wednesday for an Israeli strike on Damascus Airport, saying it does not accept Israel’s explanations.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.