Israel not at fault for Russia-Iran axis, drones in Ukraine - editorial

Ukraine was careful in the past not to side too closely with Israel as it balanced its relations in the Middle East. Israel, too, was careful to balance its relations. 

  Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a meeting of the National Security and Defence Council in Kyiv, Ukraine September 30, 2022. (photo credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a meeting of the National Security and Defence Council in Kyiv, Ukraine September 30, 2022.
(photo credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed Israel this week for the Russia-Iran alliance which has enabled Moscow to import Iranian drones and terrorize Ukraine. 

Zelensky’s misleading comments at the Haaretz conference are historically incorrect. Russia has been working with Iran for decades on defense technology, from missiles to air defense. Russia has even helped Iran to expand its nuclear power program through expanding capacity at the Bushehr nuclear plant.  

Zelensky claimed this week that the Iran-Russia alliance “would not have happened if your politicians had made only one decision at the time, the decision we asked for.” He claimed that Ukraine has been asking Israel for help since 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. He says Israel could have helped Ukraine secure its skies and prevented Russia’s airstrikes that began in February when Russia again invaded Ukraine. “The decision of your state, your governments...[was to] ‘not to annoy’ the Kremlin, not to help Ukraine for real,” Zelensky said. 

“If we had immediately secured our skies when faced with a missile and drone threat, Russia would not even have a motive now to go to Iran and offer it something in exchange for assistance in terror,” he said. 

“If we had immediately secured our skies when faced with a missile and drone threat, Russia would not even have a motive now to go to Iran and offer it something in exchange for assistance in terror.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

 UKRAINE’S PRESIDENT Volodymyr Zelensky visits the Memory Wall of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine, during marking the Defender of Ukraine Day in Kyiv, last week. (credit: UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/REUTERS) UKRAINE’S PRESIDENT Volodymyr Zelensky visits the Memory Wall of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine, during marking the Defender of Ukraine Day in Kyiv, last week. (credit: UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/REUTERS)

Zelensky's accusations miss important key details

This accusation misses several key facts. Iran developed drones because it can’t build advanced warplanes. Iran has exported drones all around the Middle East and targeted Israel for years. Ukraine has not backed Israel in the past or robustly condemned Iran’s use of drones in the Middle East. The main weapons Russia used against Ukraine since February, destroying villages and massacring civilians, have been Russian-made weapons. Moscow’s decision to acquire thousands of Iranian drones is a new dangerous stage in the Moscow-Tehran partnership, but it is not because of Israel that Russia has relied on Iran and there is no evidence Israel could have prevented this partnership

Israel has supported Ukraine since the war began; with humanitarian aid and also in international forums and through joining western countries in condemning Russia’s invasion. It is true Israel has not sent air defenses to Ukraine. Western countries have also been slow to provide Ukraine with air defenses and many advanced systems such as the Patriot system, have not been sent to Kyiv. 

It is true that Israel’s multi-layered air defense system is one of the most advanced in the world, and several layers of it are built in cooperation with the US and with US financial backing. But there is no evidence that Israel could have supplied Ukraine with these advanced systems, such as David’s Sling, Iron Dome or Arrow; and it’s not clear even that these systems are appropriate for Kyiv. 

Billion-dollar air defense systems take years to build and deploy and integrate into battle management systems with the correct radars and air defenders trained to use the systems. The batteries Israel has, are needed here and even if Israel were to agree to sell, it would still take years to field them. 

Nevertheless, there are compelling reasons for Israel to be more active in supporting Ukraine. The Iranian drone threat to Ukraine began with attacks on Israel going back to 2018; and Iran’s missile threats go back decades. 

Israel should support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its civilians because Israel knows how awful it is for civilians to be under rocket fire. Considering the fact that Hamas, Hezbollah and Iranian backed groups targeted Israel for years – sometimes with rockets that have origins in Russian technology – should remind the world that the threats against Israel don’t stop here but grow to threaten the region and the world

The Russian war on Ukraine is an example of how the world should have taken Iran’s threats more seriously. Now Russia and Iran are working together and leveraging the nefarious deeds each country excels in. 

Israel should support Ukraine, but Ukraine’s leader should also not be misleading about Ukraine-Israel relations. 

Ukraine was careful in the past not to side too closely with Israel as it balanced its relations in the Middle East. Israel, too, was careful to balance its relations. 

Does Israel stand with Ukraine? Yes. Does that mean it needs to do everything Kyiv wants? No.