The foreign minister of Israel visits Ukraine and offers financial support
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said his country would provide financial aid to Ukraine. Cohen is the first senior Israeli official to visit Ukraine since the war with Russia began.
The first public visit to Ukraine by a senior Israeli official since Russia's invasion last year was made by Israel's foreign minister on Thursday. He promised financial assistance to the nation still reeling from the war, but he made no mention of whether Israel would be willing to give Ukraine weapons.
Eli Cohen, the foreign minister of Israel, announced that his country would lend Ukraine $200 million to build a medical facility during a joint press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart. Also, he reaffirmed Israel's willingness to assist Ukraine in creating a "smart early-warning" air raid system.
But he gave no specifics on when that system might be delivered, made no mention of Russia and did not appear to respond to Ukrainian appeals for Israel to provide offensive weaponry.
"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," Cohen said.
The visit came just before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion and as Western nations seek to increase aid to the country.
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 other western countries, Israel has not imposed sanctions on Russia or Russian officials or provided Ukraine with weapons.
It has provided humanitarian support to Ukraine, including a field hospital, and pledged to provide the aerial-warning system. Ukrainian leaders have talked about some intelligence cooperation with Israel, but Israeli officials have not publicly confirmed these ties or the extent of any such cooperation.
Cohen met with Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, who said on Twitter afterwards that he was "thankful for all of the support that Israel and Israelis have provided over the past year."
"During our detailed and frank talks, we focused on ways to enhance bilateral relations, increase assistance, and address shared security challenges," he said.
Yevgen Korniychuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, said that Israel "again assured us that they will bring the early warning system, but they didn’t say when."
Cohen later was meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and leaders of the country’s Jewish community as part of the brief trip.
Cohen was reminded of the hardships endured by Ukrainians when air raid sirens sounded as he entered the country’s Foreign Ministry.
Cohen said earlier this year that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government "will definitely do one thing: publicly, we will talk less" about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but would keep providing Ukraine with humanitarian aid. Shortly after taking office, he spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Israel maintains good working relations with both warring countries, and has large populations of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants. Israel also relies on security coordination with Russia over neighboring Syria, where Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian military positions in the past decade. Russian warplanes also operate in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Russia and Israel maintain communication to avoid conflict.
As other Western nations step up assistance to Ukraine, pressure has built on Israel to share some of its sophisticated military means with Ukraine, including from the U.S.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said following a meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem last month that he had emphasized "the importance of providing support for all of Ukraine’s needs – humanitarian, economic, and security."
Yossi Shain, a former member of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee, said Israel’s ultranationalist government — which has butted heads with the Biden administration on the issue of West Bank settlements — may try to gain Washington’s favor by providing defensive capabilities to Ukraine, while "not crossing certain lines that will endanger its lesser involvement because of the threats of Russia" in neighboring Syria.
Last year, Israel’s former prime minister, Naftali Bennett, attempted briefly to mediate between the sides, flying to Moscow shortly after Russia’s invasion and meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Bennett said an interview earlier this month that Putin assured him at the time that Russia would not kill Zelenskyy.