Israel’s caution when it comes to Russia’s war on Ukraine has allowed Jerusalem to help, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday.
“From the first moment, Israel took a measured, responsible stance that allowed us not only to protect our interests, but to be useful,” Bennett said in a speech at Mossad headquarters.
Israel has been “a reliable player, one of the few that can communicate directly with both sides and to help when it is asked, and we are helping quietly,” the prime minister said.
Bennett has spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent days.
At Zelensky’s request, Bennett raised the possibility of mediation between Ukraine and Russia in Jerusalem during his conversation with Putin. The Russian president did not reject the offer, but said he was working on talks in Belarus.
Zelensky had previously asked Bennett and his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, several times to mediate with Putin, who rejected the offer each time.
Other countries Ukraine has asked to mediate include Turkey and Azerbaijan.
In Tel Aviv, Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told reporters that he understood Bennett’s offer had not been accepted at this time, and that Russia was not serious about ceasefire talks. Korniychuk said he believed talks in Belarus were a ruse to distract from Russia’s continued military engagement.
“Two parties are needed for mediation, and now there is only one party that wants talks and that is Ukraine,” he said, adding that this is why the situation has escalated.
When the time comes for mediation, “Jerusalem would be a good venue,” Korniychuk said. “Israel is one of the only civilized democratic nations that are in very good relations with both countries, so that might give it leverage It might help Israel to be a balanced mediator.”
In his speech at Mossad headquarters, Bennett pointed out that Israel sent three planes of humanitarian aid to Ukraine this week, and will send more if it is needed.
“We are ready to give humanitarian aid in the field, and to help Jews make aliyah from all the relevant places,” he said.
The third and final plane of humanitarian aid for Ukraine took off from Israel on Tuesday morning.
MASHAV, Israel’s development and aid agency, began sending 100 tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine on Monday, at the instruction of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry.
The aid includes 17 tons of medical equipment and medicines, including antibiotics, dressings for wounds, hospital supplies and more.
Israel also sent emergency water-purifying kits, 3,000 tents, 15,000 blankets, 3,000 sleeping bags and 2,700 down coats.
The plane headed from Ben-Gurion Airport to Warsaw, to be transported to Ukraine by land.
“Israel is standing with the Ukrainian people in its hardest hour,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said. “That is our moral obligation.”
Eynat Shlein, Foreign Ministry deputy director-general for MASHAV, called the humanitarian aid “a gesture of goodwill.”
“This operation, sending 100 tons of aid in one day, is unprecedented, and we are happy to have done it,” Shlein said on the tarmac, as the last plane was being loaded with boxes. “I hope the assistance will improve the situation for at least some of the people who will receive it inside Ukraine or at the border crossings.”
Ukraine also asked for Israeli paramedics to come along with the supplies, but Israel refused. However, the Ukrainian Embassy is looking for volunteers, and Israel said it will not get in their way.
Bennett met with students from Ukraine who are on Masa long-term programs in Israel. They told him about their families and their concerns.
“First and foremost, I want to tell you that you have a home here,” Bennett said. “Israel is your home and that of your families and of every Jew in the world, now and forever. That is why Israel was established in the first place.”
Bennett said Israel sent humanitarian aid to “Ukrainians generally and to Jews specifically.”
The students who met with Bennett are on internship programs, including medical internships, and come from Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa, among other cities.