Two top Israeli lawmakers met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and called for their country to give Kyiv an anti-drone and anti-missile system, a position that is contrary to the existing government’s policy.
“Israel has provided and will continue to provide extensive humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but, in our opinion, it is not enough,” Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuli Edelstein (Likud) and MK Ze’ev Elkin (National Unity) said in a joint statement published by the Ukrainian Embassy on Tuesday after their Monday meeting with Zelensky.
Israel 'must stop being afraid' to help Ukraine
“Israel needs to significantly increase its support for Ukraine, Israel can and should do much more than it has done so far,” they said, echoing what they had told the Ukrainian president who they already knew and had spent time with.
“We must stop being afraid, and take an active unequivocal position in accordance with the basic moral values, as would be expected from any western country.
“We must assist Ukraine in all areas where Israeli technologies, including its military ones, can help protect the civilian population, its freedom and independence.
"There are moments in world history when you cannot sit at once on two chairs,” they said.
The two men, both originally from Ukraine, now lead the Ukrainian parliamentary friendship group in the Knesset. Edelstein is a former Knesset speaker and Elkin, a former minister, has often acted as an interpreter for Israeli Prime Ministers when they spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This included former prime minister Naftali Bennett's trip to Moscow last March to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to mediate an end to the war.
Both men have in the past been supportive of Israel maintaining close ties with Russia, but now they have become bi-partisan advocates of the necessity of standing with Ukraine, even at the risk of damaging ties with Moscow.
Eli Cohen visited Zelensky last week
Their visit followed the trip by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to Ukraine last week — the first by a high-level Israeli official since the start of the war — in which he also met with Zelensky. Cohen promised that Israel would support Ukraine when the United Nations General voted Wednesday on Zelensky’s peace plan. He also said that Israel would secure a $200 million loan to Ukraine for medical and infrastructure assistance. He said Israel would make good on its pledge from last October to provide Ukraine with an early alert system to warn citizens of incoming missiles.
Cohen, however, did not promise to provide any defensive arms, a move that Russia has considered a red line. Ukraine, however, has specifically looked to Israel for help with high-tech and low-tech anti-drone and anti-missile systems and has continuously expressed its frustration with Israel over its lack of support on this front.
Zelensky publicly called out Israel during his address last week to the Munich Security Conference and asked that it provide Ukraine with its advanced David Sling system, which is jointly developed between the Israeli company Rafael and the US one Raytheon.
Edelstein and Elkin said they hoped that Cohen’s visit was just the first step in the process of expanding Israeli assistance to Ukraine.
“As parliamentarians, we will do everything in our power to significantly increase Israeli support to Ukraine in all areas,” they said.
When Cohen was in Ukraine he was careful not to mention Russia when expressing solidarity with the victims of the war.
Edelstein and Elkin had no such hesitation to speak of Russian “aggression” against Ukraine, particularly as they noted that the war-torn country and Israel shared a common enemy - Iran.
The need for both countries to work jointly against Iran is a point that Cohen raised as well during his visit in which he discussed with Zelensky and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.
Russia’s use of Iranians produced armed drones against Ukraine and Tehran’s growing military alliance with Moscow has made the issue of the Islamic Republic a personal one for Ukraine.
“There is no doubt that a common security challenge for the State of Israel and Ukraine is the Russian-Iranian military-political alliance,” Edelstein and Elkin said, noting that Iran was able to gain daily combat experience in Iran and was using that battlefield to test new weapons.
“Israel and Ukraine must jointly take immediate steps to curb this axis of evil,” they said.
"Israel and Ukraine must jointly take immediate steps to curb this axis of evil"Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuli Edelstein (Likud) and MK Ze’ev Elkin (National Unity)
Edelstein later told The Jerusalem Post that “We heard from our Ukrainian counterparts about the damage caused by the Iranian drones.
“We shared information about other forms of cooperation between Russia and Iran,” he said, adding that “once we have such a dangerous mutual enemy we can work together.”
The lawmakers had not understood when they scheduled their trip that they would arrive in Ukraine on the same day as US President Joe Biden, who made a surprise visit to the country. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was also there.
Despite this, Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post, they were able to speak with Zelensky for an hour. “It was a very good, honest meeting” and not just a photo op, Edelstein added.
That Zelensky "was ready to have a serious working meeting, shows that he has expectations from Israel and he hopes that we will justify his expectations,” Edelstein said.
“He was very attentive to what we had to say. He definitely expects more from Israel” but he “understands the limitations we have,” Edelstein said as he referenced Israel’s complex situation with Russia whose military sits on its border with Syria.
Zelensky has, therefore, limited his request to defensive military equipment and has not sought to receive battlefield weapons such as the Merkava tank, Edelstein explained.
Zelensky hopeful of defensive military equipment from Israel - Edelstein
The Ukrainian President expressed his hope that Ukraine would indeed receive defensive military equipment from Israel, Edelstein said.
“They are looking to our direction to help protect their civilian population,” Edelstein said. Both he and Elking were able to stress, as Cohen had, that the early civilian alert system would arrive soon.
“We promised the President that we would continue to work with our colleagues in Israel to make things happen,” Edelstein said, adding that the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee would be discussing the issue.
In their public statement, the two men noted that in their meeting with Zelensky, they had spoken of their personal connection to the conflict, explaining that as “natives of Ukraine” with relatives that still live there under fire.
To Zelensky they said, “we know firsthand how difficult it is for you today. But truth and justice always win, and we have no doubt whose side they are on. That is why we are here with you today,” they said.
The lawmakers also met with the country's chief of intelligence and with the Ukrainian Defense Minster Oleksi Reznikov. They visited Bucha with Reznikov to see the site of the mass grave by the Church of Saint Andrew.
“When you visit a place like Bucha" and “you hear what happened there” as “a human being you can not remain calm,” said Edelstein, as he explained the emotional imperative of helping Ukraine.
But at the same time, he said, his thoughts about Israel’s policy toward Ukraine were not based on that emotion, but rather on his evaluation of what was best for Israel.
“I am not suggesting that we have to run our international policy on an emotional basis,” he said.
“I am doing is because I am an Israeli elected official and I am working for the best interests of the state of Israel the way I understand it,” he said.