Addressing the Haaretz Democracy Conference today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned of an increasing Iranian threat. He reminded listeners of the events of Oct. 17, when 15 Russian cruise missiles and 42 Iranian combat drones hit essential infrastructure as well as residential buildings, including a 120-year-old building in Kyiv built by a pillar of the Jewish community.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, said Zelenskyy, Russia had ordered about 2,000 Shahed attack drones from Iran in addition to missiles and other drones. Iranian instructors, he added, came to Russia to demonstrate how to use the unmanned vehicles.
Reiterating previous calls, Zelenskyy said his country does not have an Iron Dome. "We still do not have a modern and effective air defense and missile defense system that could secure our skies." The Ukrainian president argued that Russia is likely not paying Iran for the drones it supplies but looking for Russian assistance in developing its nuclear program. "Probably, this is exactly the meaning of their alliance." Zelenskyy said that this alliance between Moscow and Tehran would never have come about had the Israeli leadership agreed to help Kyiv protect Ukrainian skies. He also said his country had been asking Israel for air defense assistance against Russian aggression since 2014.
Interpreting Zelenskyy’s call: The Ukrainian president has addressed Israeli audiences on several occasions. On some of them, Zelenskyy referred to his own Jewish origins and invoked Jewish solidarity. But his address today focused on the emerging Russia-Iran alliance, an argument Zelenskyy believes could pressure Israel’s security and political establishments into shifting their stance on assisting Ukraine militarily. So far, Israel has offered Ukraine vast humanitarian aid and defensive equipment including helmets and protective vests, but no weapons or Iron Dome batteries.
The Israeli security establishment is increasingly concerned over the Moscow-Tehran axis. Still, Gantz and Prime Minister Yair Lapid had reiterated in the past few days that Israel is not changing its position. Gantz said last week that Israel would only agree to supply Ukraine with an alarm system, the same one it uses to alert its citizens. Expressing anger over the Israeli proposition, Kyiv cancelled a scheduled phone conversation between Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Gantz five days ago. That conversation finally took place this morning, with Gantz's office highlighting agreement between the two ministers to establish a permanent dialogue between the Israeli and Ukrainian defense establishments.
More behind the scenes: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is becoming an electoral issue in Israel. Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu told USA Today three days ago that he will “look into” whether Israel will supply weapons to Ukraine and expects he may be asked to mediate negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. “If I become prime minister, that question presumably will come up again,” he said.
Reacting to Zelenskyy's address, Gantz said today on the 103FM radio station, that "It’s a negative development that against the background of the war in Ukraine, a stronger connection is being formed between Russia and Iran. This is becoming a more significant economic and weapon-related space than it was before. This is a trend that is definitely troubling."