Israel pledges to deepen co-operation with Ukraine in bid to thwart Iran

The Middle East nation has walked a tightrope between assisting Kyiv and avoiding friction with Russia

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, meets Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Kyiv. AFP
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Israel and Ukraine have agreed to step up co-operation in a shared struggle against Iran, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said as he wrapped up the first visit to Kyiv by a senior Israeli official since Russia’s invasion began last year.

Mr Cohen provided few details on what type of co-operation would take place and also gave no indication whether Israel had met a long-standing Ukrainian request to join the US and other western allies in providing weapons to the Ukrainian military.

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, citing the country’s nuclear programme, its hostile rhetoric and its support for militant groups along Israel’s borders.

With Iran now providing attack drones to Russia in the Ukrainian war, Israel could be in a position to assist Ukraine with intelligence on arms shipments and expertise on how to counter the aerial threats.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday, Mr Cohen was evasive.

“We spoke about deepening co-operation with Ukraine against the Iranian threat in the international arena,” he said.

Since the outbreak of the war, Israel has walked a tightrope between assisting Ukraine and avoiding friction with Russia, with which it has strategic regional interests.

Unlike western countries, Israel has not imposed sanctions on Russia or its officials or provided Ukraine with weapons.

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to fire a mortar towards Russian positions in Bakhmut on Thursday. AFP

It has provided humanitarian support to Ukraine, including building a field hospital.

Mr Cohen said Israel would provide $200 million in loan guarantees to build hospitals in Ukraine and repeated an Israeli pledge to give Ukraine a sophisticated air defence warning system.

However, he gave no specifics on when that system might be delivered, made no mention of Russia and did not publicly respond to Ukrainian appeals for Israeli arms.

“Israel, as stated in the past, stands firmly in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and remains committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Mr Cohen said.

His visit came shortly before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and at a time when western nations are seeking to increase aid to the country.

Israel maintains good working relations with both countries and has large populations of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants.

Israel also relies on security co-ordination with Russia in neighbouring Syria, where Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against Iranian military positions in the past decade.

Updated: February 17, 2023, 9:32 AM