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Regional Geopolitics

Zelenskyy Warns Israel: Putin Will Help Iran Go Nuclear in Exchange for Drones

Ukraine’s president tells Haaretz Democracy Conference that Tehran’s sale of suicide drones to Moscow happened partly because Israel decided to remain neutral in the conflict

Source: Haaretz

Moscow’s military cooperation with Tehran will likely result in Russia assisting Iran with the development of its nuclear program, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday, saying Israel could have prevented the two countries’ burgeoning alliance.

Addressing the Haaretz Democracy Conference in a prerecorded video message, the Ukrainian leader said that Iran’s sale of suicide drones and provision of military instructors to Russian forces operating in his country would not have been possible without Israel’s decision to stay neutral in the conflict.

“In eight months of full-scale war, Russia has used almost 4,500 missiles against us. And their stock of missiles is dwindling. This is why Russia went looking for affordable weapons in other countries to continue its terror. It found them in Iran,” Zelenskyy said. He added that Ukrainian intelligence estimates that Russia ordered some 2,000 Shahed drones from Tehran.

“I have a question for you: How does Russia pay Iran for this, in your opinion? Is Iran just interested in money? Probably not money at all, but Russian assistance for the Iranian nuclear program. Probably, this is exactly the meaning of their alliance. And this alliance of theirs simply would not have happened if your politicians had made only one decision at the time: the decision we asked for.”

Ukraine has been seeking Israeli military assistance ever since the Russian invasion began in February. “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. Zelenskyy called on Israel to “act together” with the Western democracies arming Kyiv.

Israel’s security establishment has repeatedly opposed arming Ukraine, arguing that angering Moscow could endanger the Israel Defense Forces’ freedom of action in Syria, where Russian forces have stood aside and allowed airstrikes against Iranian targets.

Pushing back against Israeli concerns, Zelenskyy said Monday that “the Russian presence in Syria has been significantly reduced thanks to our defenders, who are beating the occupiers. But unfortunately, we do not have our own Iron Dome,” he added, referring to the Israeli defense system against short-range missiles.

Last Tuesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba officially requested air defense systems and training from Israel’s Foreign Ministry. He noted that Iran would use the opportunity to deploy its weapons systems in Europe to refine their capabilities, and that these could later be turned against Israel.

However, Israel made it clear that it would not send military assistance, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz stressing “that we are not selling weapons to Ukraine.”

In a call on Monday, Gantz reiterated to his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov that "due to operational limitations faced by the State of Israel, Israel will not provide weapon systems to Ukraine," according to Walla New's Barak Ravid.

The ministers, however, agreed to hold professional dialogue in an effort to help Ukraine in the development of a civilian warning system against aerial threats, Gantz's office said, adding that the call was good.

The sole member of the government who has called for arms to be sent to Ukraine is Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai. He recently tweeted that “in view of the [latest] barbaric attacks on Ukrainian cities, it is time for our country to take a clear moral position and to support [Kyiv] with practical steps, including giving defensive weapons to protect the peaceful population.”

Ukraine has reached out to Jewish organizations in Europe and the United States as part of an effort to enlist world Jewry in pressuring Israel to end its self-imposed neutrality. Yet according to a poll conducted last week on behalf of Israeli public broadcaster Kan, 41 percent of Israelis still oppose arming Ukraine, while 21 percent support such a move and 38 percent are unsure.

Thanking Haaretz for presenting him with its 2022 Democracy Award, Zelenskyy said that while he appreciated the support, “isn’t it time for your state to choose who you are with as well? Is it with the democratic world, which is fighting side by side against the existential threat to its existence? Or with those who turn a blind eye to Russian terror, even when the cost of continued terror is the complete destruction of global security?”