The first formal visit to Ukraine by a top Israeli official since Russia’s incursion last year was made by Israel’s foreign minister, who left for Kyiv on Thursday.
Yet, there were no indications that Israel was getting ready to dramatically step up its limited assistance to Ukraine or accede to its requests for arms.
Just before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion and as Western nations look to enhance help to Ukraine, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited.
Since the beginning of the conflict, Israel has straddled a precarious line between supporting Ukraine and averting conflict with Russia, with whom it has strategic regional interests.
In contrast to other western nations, Israel has neither levied sanctions against Russia or Russian leaders nor given Ukraine arms.
It has promised to deploy defensive air-raid warning systems and has given Ukraine humanitarian assistance, including a field hospital.
Israeli officials have not officially affirmed these ties or the scope of any intelligence collaboration with Ukraine that Ukrainian leaders have mentioned.
Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister of Ukraine, and Cohen had a meeting.
During the meeting, Kuleba posted on Twitter that he was “grateful for all of the support that Israel and Israelis have provided over the past year.”
“We focused on measures to expand bilateral relations, increase assistance, and solve shared security problems during our in-depth and open discussions,” he said.
Israel has “again guaranteed us that they will bring the early warning system, but they didn’t indicate when,” according to Yevgen Korniychuk, the ambassador of Ukraine to Israel.
During the brief trip, Cohen was also expected to meet with the president of the Ukrainian nation, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and members of the nation’s Jewish community.
It was unclear if Cohen would announce increased support for Ukraine during his quick visit or if the visit would signify going forward increased Israeli engagement.
Cohen remarked during a visit to a mass grave memorial in Bucha, outside of Kyiv, “We’re here on a crucial visit of solidarity with the Ukrainian nation, which has experienced a very rough time in the past year.” He claimed Israel had helped Ukraine and provided humanitarian supplies, and it would do so going forward.
When air raid sirens began to sound as Cohen entered the foreign ministry of Ukraine, he was reminded of the struggles that Ukrainians had to go through.
Earlier this year, Cohen declared that the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “would surely do one thing: officially, we will talk less” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but will continue to provide humanitarian help to Ukraine.
He spoke with Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, soon after taking office.
Israel has a sizable immigrant population from both warring nations and retains cordial relations with them. Israel also depends on Russian security cooperation over the adjacent country of Syria, where it has attacked Iranian military targets with hundreds of bombings over the previous ten years.
Additionally, Russian airplanes fly missions supporting Bashar Assad in Syria, and Moscow and Israel keep in touch to prevent hostilities.
There is increasing pressure on Israel to provide some of its advanced military equipment to Ukraine as other Western countries, particularly the U.S., increase their aid.
During their meeting in Jerusalem last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that he had stressed “the need to give support for all of Ukraine’s needs – humanitarian, economic, and security.”
Former Knesset member Yossi Shain suggested that Israel’s ultranationalist government, which has clashed with the Biden administration over the issue of West Bank settlements, may attempt to curry favor with Washington by giving Ukraine defensive capabilities, while “not crossing certain lines that will endanger its lesser involvement due to the threats of Russia” in neighboring Syria.
Former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett traveled to Moscow soon after Russia’s incursion and met with President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to mediate between the parties last year.
In an interview earlier this month, Bennett said that Putin had previously reassured him that Russia would not murder Zelenskyy.