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NATO wants Israel to 're-examine' its aid to Ukraine

NATO and Israel are closer than even before on the issue of the Iranian threat but not yet on the same page over assisting Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R) shakes hands with President of the State of Israel Isaac Herzog.

BRUSSELS — A senior Israeli diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on Friday that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders asked the country's President Isaac Herzog to re-examine areas where Israel could do more in assisting Ukraine, while taking into account Israeli security constraints.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog participated Thursday in the North Atlantic Council meeting at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

The visit marked the first time that an Israeli president addressed this forum of ambassadors, reflecting the deepening of ties between the two sides. Before his meeting with the ambassadors, Herzog held talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. In both meetings, the three main topics discussed were Russia, Ukraine and Iran.

Stoltenberg welcomed Herzog warmly, but also frankly. Standing by Herzog’s side, Stoltenberg said the two discussed the war in Ukraine.

“Today, I look forward to discussing ways to strengthen our cooperation further. Including on climate change, innovation and new technologies. And also to discuss our support for Ukraine."

A senior Israeli diplomat told Al-Monitor that NATO greatly appreciates Israel’s humanitarian aid, including on civil and mental resilience. There was no specific request at the meetings in Brussels for other kinds of assistance, said the source. Rather, NATO is requesting that Jerusalem re-examine the situation and see what else it could offer within its limitations.

Herzog’s meetings at NATO took place shortly after Washington announced it will hand over to Ukraine 31 Abrams tanks to Kyiv; Berlin said it will hand over 14 Leopard tanks. Paris is still debating whether to transfer to the Ukrainians Leclerc tanks.

Since Russia's invasion last year, Israel offered Ukraine extensive humanitarian aid, valued at dozens of millions of dollars. It was the first country to set up a field hospital. Israel donated 20 electricity generators to the southeast Kherson region, transferred medical equipment to the children’s hospital in Kyiv and armored ambulances, and transferred several shipments of medication and food rations. It also offered Ukrainians training courses in mental health treatments for victims of trauma. On the security side, Israel offered the Ukrainian army 2,000 helmets and 500 protective vests. Still, it repeatedly refused to supply Kyiv with the Barak-8 anti-missile system or any kinds of drones.

NATO understands Jerusalem’s reluctance over assisting Kyiv with weapons and the importance it accords to preserving open communication channels with Russia over Syria. Thus, there are currently no expectations that Israel will offer Ukraine anti-missile Iron Dome batteries, as requested in the past by President Volodymir Zelenskyy. The senior Israeli diplomat told Al-Monitor that NATO greatly appreciates Israel’s humanitarian aid, including on civil and mental resilience. 

Herzog's visit to NATO came after a series of visits in Israel by NATO senior officials. The latest visit was that of NATO’s Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Bettina Cadenbach in mid-November. The two sides are now negotiating a new partnership agreement, which should set a working framework for the next four years. This new framework should enable NATO and Israel to accelerate the process of enhanced cooperation in a multitude of fields, including emerging threats/cyber defense, climate change, space, civil resilience, counterterrorism and much more. The Israeli diplomatic team in Brussels is hard at work, with proposals for a large and rich cooperation framework.

Herzog’s main message to NATO was about Iran. Addressing journalists before entering his meeting with Stoltenberg, Herzog noted that the current crisis in Ukraine goes beyond its boundaries. ‘’With the Iranian threat now at Europe’s doorstep, the international order is being challenged as well. Yes, the radical Iranian regime is executing innocent citizens at home, launching attacks and undermining stability across the Middle East, spreading arms, death and terror in Europe, in Ukraine especially and around the world, and continuing its belligerent pursuit of nuclear weapons on its quest for regional and world domination,’’ he said.

The Iranian military assistance to Russia, especially on drone supply, preoccupies greatly both NATO and EU leaders. Standing beside Herzog and addressing this cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, Stoltenberg said Thursday, "As we see growing cooperation among authoritarian states, it is more important than ever to stand up for freedom and democracy."

This issue of Iran supplying drones to Russia was discussed at length at Herzog’s meeting with NATO ambassadors. Reports last December claimed that Israel provided NATO with intelligence on the same type of drones that Iran had supplied Russia with. But even before the Russian invasion to Ukraine, the threat of military drones has become a top issue for NATO. Israel’s unique capabilities in this domain are of great interest to the Alliance, and Jerusalem is also interested in cooperating on the issue. 

Evidently, these NATO concerns facilitate Israel’s global campaign against Iranian threats. World condemnation of the continuing breaching of human rights in Iran, and the fact that talks between Iran and world powers on a new JCPOA are stuck, also play in Israel’s favor.

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