Israel and Ukraine agreed to work jointly, in the international sphere and on all levels, against their common enemy Iran, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said after he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday evening.
“We talked about deepening cooperation with Ukraine in the face of the Iranian threat in the international arena,” Cohen told Israeli reporters in Kyiv, adding that “Iran’s evil face was revealed in Ukraine.”
Zelensky, during that meeting, reportedly stated that Iran was their “common enemy.” But Cohen made it clear to the Ukrainian president that Israel does not plan to provide it with defensive weapons, the kind that could protect Ukrainian citizens against armed Iranian drones Russia has launched against them.
The meeting took place after Cohen’s packed one-day solidarity visit to Ukraine, in what was the first high-level visit of an Israeli official to the war-torn country since Russia’s invasion last year. The foreign minister first landed in Poland and then took an all-night train into Kyiv, which passed a snow-crested landscape of bare trees.
In his conversation with Zelensky and earlier in the day with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, Cohen also publicly agreed to back Zelensky’s peace plan when it comes for a vote at the United Nations General Assembly next week.
“Israel supports the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and we will support the proposed Ukrainian resolution at the UN,” he said.
Israel also intends to make good on the previous government’s promise to provide Ukraine with an early warning alert system, something that former Defense Minister Benny Gantz had already told Ukraine would happen last October.
Cohen said he hoped to send the system within three months. He also promised to secure a funding guarantee worth $200 million for healthcare and infrastructure projects.
But he was careful throughout the day, as he paid witness to the tragedy of the war and condemned its violence, not to mention Russia in his comments.
The visit was the most proactive public gesture Israel has made in the last year, coming just six weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government was sworn in.
Zelensky issued a positive statement about Cohen’s visit as the foreign minister headed out of the city. “Israel has always been our important partner in the Middle East. This is the first visit of an Israeli representative since the beginning of the full-scale invasion,” the president said.
“We discussed deepening bilateral cooperation in various areas. I invite Israel to join the implementation of our Peace Formula; I am grateful for the humanitarian aid provided. We discussed the country’s participation in post-war reconstruction. Ukraine could use Israel’s experience,” Zelensky said.
“I hope that this visit will contribute to deepening our cooperation.”
Israel is under pressure from the US to do more to help Ukraine on the economic, humanitarian and security levels, but Cohen’s trip came out of his own deep conviction that the Jewish state has to do more to help the beleaguered country.
Cohen was struck during his many conversations with foreign leaders in the past weeks about how important Ukraine was to them and how significant it was for Israel to stand with like-minded Western countries.
Israel in a complex situation
Israel is in a complex situation when it comes to Ukraine, given the military presence of Russia in neighboring Syria and the importance of maintaining ties with Moscow to coordinate actions against Iran in the region.
It is hopeful that Kyiv understands the complexity of the situation Israel finds itself in and the reasons that it is hesitant to cross what has been a clear line for Moscow, about not providing Ukraine with defensive weapons.
Cohen, in his meetings on Thursday, underscored the many ways the two countries could work together against Iran, including information sharing.
“My visit here in Kyiv today is another testimony of our ongoing support to the Ukrainian people,” he said during his joint press event with Kuleba, which followed a meeting whose start had been marked by a warning siren.
“I am proud to stand with Ukraine in the face of these challenging times,” Cohen said.
Kuleba thanked Israel for what it has done but said that Kyiv also would like to see military support from Israel. “Humanitarian assistance is important but first and foremost it is important to gain victory in this war,” he said.
“Israel knows perfectly well the list of our military and defensive requests which we have provided to the previous government and to this government, and we will be waiting for some decision to be taken,” Kuleba said.
“We are talking about the protection of Ukrainian skies.”
Cohen’s visit also marked the reopening of the Ukrainian embassy, with the foreign minister attending a ceremony in which the Israeli flag was hoisted in front of the building.
Earlier in the day, Cohen visited the site of a mass grave of victims killed in the early months of the war in Bucha.
“It is impossible to remain unmoved in the face of the harsh sights and horror stories that I have heard and been exposed to here,” Cohen said after he visited the site of a mass grave of victims.
“Israel condemns any intentional harm to innocents,” the foreign minister said after he laid a wreath at the grave.
Visiting Babi Yar
From there he traveled to the small home of an 84-year-old Ukrainian woman to hear about her first-hand stories of surviving the bombings.
He paid homage to Jewish history in Ukraine with a visit to the World War II massacre site of Babi Yar.
“We stand today in this painful place, where more than 30,000 Jews were murdered, a step that preceded the terrible final solution that led to the extinction of more than one and a half million Jews in the territories of the former Soviet Union,” Cohen said.
“The Holocaust is a black stain in human history and we must remember that the systematic murder of Jews, wherever they are, will never return!” he exclaimed, adding that “I can guarantee we will do everything to protect our people and provide them with security against those who sow evil against them.”