ANALYSIS: Israel’s Changing Role in the Escalating Ukraine War

Israel Today speaks with heads of Christian organization following visit to Kyiv about the situation on the ground and what Israel should do.

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Iran, Ukraine, Russia
Israelis rally in support of Ukraine on the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion.
Israelis rally in support of Ukraine on the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion. Photo: Erik Marmor/Flash90

The war in Ukraine has now been going on for one year and new players are slowly but surely entering the fray. One of them could be Israel, which under the new government seems to have made a policy change. There are clear signs that Jerusalem is now doing more than providing humanitarian aid and protective gear only to the Ukrainian army, and is working behind the scenes to assist Kyiv in the escalating war with Russia.

We spoke with the Office Manager of the Dutch branch of Christians for Israel about his visit to Kyiv and with the head of CFI’s local relief team in Ukraine, Koen Carlier, about the situation there.

Christians for Israel bureau chief Benjamin Vandeputte was in Ukraine two weeks ago and told Israel Today about the dire situation there.

According to Benjamin, tensions in Ukraine are running high and something big is about to happen soon.

That, according to him and many others in Ukraine, could be a second offensive by the Russian army that has drafted an additional 300,000 soldiers since November 2022.

Many observers say more or less the same and claim that if the West or NATO does not quickly provide large-scale aid to the besieged country, Russia can still achieve its goal, that being the full occupation of one of the most important Eastern European countries.


Israel and the war in Ukraine

What does the war in Ukraine have to do with Israel, you may ask?

The answer to that question is quite a lot, and not just because both Ukraine and Israel are threatened in their very existence by a fanatical aggressor.

For months there has been evidence that Russia and Iran have formed an alliance whereby Iran supplies advanced weapons to the Russians, and in return Iran receives Russian aid in the further development of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program.

As we will see, Israel recently launched an attack on Iran that appears to be directly related to the war in Ukraine. More on that later.


Critical phase

The war in Ukraine now seems to have reached a critical stage, as became apparent from a number of reports that have been published recently by OSINT news sites.

According to experts and eyewitnesses, the latest developments show that the Russian army is preparing for the long-anticipated spring offensive that should finally break the morale of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s forces.

Whether it comes to that remains to be seen, and also depends on what the free world will do with Zelensky’s pleas to provide more advanced weaponry, including F-16 fighters and modern tanks.

The F-16s will probably not come, but several European countries and the United States have committed to supplying modern tanks to Ukraine.

These are different types of tanks that are used in Western armies, such as the Leopard and the American M1 Abrams tank, but it will take time for them to become operable since delivery will be slow and the tank crews must first be trained.

There is also a lack of ammunition such as artillery shells, and that’s why the United States has removed 100,000 of these shells from their warehouses in Israel after consultations with the government of Israel.

However, this is currently not the only link between the war in Ukraine and Israel.


Mossad attack in Iran

Israel not only helps Ukraine with crucial intelligence about the Iranian weapons used by Russia, but also by attacking Iran’s arms industry.

Recently, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency Mossad attacked a weapons factory in the city of Isfahan.

Three so-called “quadcopters” wreaked havoc at the factory where remote-controlled combat aircraft (UAVs) and missiles were produced.

The Tehran regime later announced that it had arrested a number of Mossad agents who had piloted the drones, and claimed they were Iranian Kurds who worked for the Israeli secret service.

The New York Times then reported that it was certain that Mossad was behind the attack and claimed it had been carried it out because of “Israel’s own security interests.”

The latter seems unlikely because the attack came at a time when it had become known that Iran no longer supplies the Shahed 135 UAV to Russia, only and because of the fact that Israel has proven it can act against Iranian weapons deliveries to its proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza directly via the IAF and the Israeli navy.

The Islamic Republic is now also supplying other types of long-range UAVs to Russia that can carry a larger bomb than the relatively primitive Shahed 136.

The first delivery consisted of 18 Mohajer-6 UAVs, the Shahed 191 and 129, both of which have a range of 200 kilometers and are not, like the Shahed 136 suicide drone, destroyed in an attack.

The Iranians transported the UAVs with ships and civilian planes, something we know from the arms deliveries to the Iranian militias in Syria.


Strategic threat

Israel apparently sees the growing cooperation between Iran and Russia as a strategic threat, but cannot say so out loud because of its sensitive relations with Moscow.

As is well known, the Russians have a major influence on what happens in Syria, where Iran has been engaged in a military build-up for years.

Moreover, there is a relatively large Jewish community in Russia that has already been indirectly threatened by the regime of Vladimir Putin.

For a long time, it seemed that the Russian government would put an end to the activities of the Jewish Agency in Russia because of a false accusation that the agency was guilty of espionage.

The government of Israel cannot ignore the fate of the Russian Jews, and therefore has to walk a thin line in its relations with Putin’s regime.

The government of Ukraine, however, still wants Israel to do more.

The Israeli-produced Iron Dome anti-missile defense shield is still high on Zelensky’s bucket list for advanced weapons, as well as Israeli UAVs.

Israel, however, fears that these ultra-modern weapons will fall into the hands of Iranian engineers via the Russian army, and has so far refused to supply Ukraine with Iron Dome and attack UAVs.

This is despite pressure from Washington, where the US administration of President Joe Biden also believes that Israel should do more to help Ukraine.


Change in Israel’s attitude

Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, traveled via Poland to Kyiv on Thursday, February 16, becoming the first Israeli minister to visit Ukraine since the start of the war in late February 2022.

Cohen held talks with President Zelensky and Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, during which Kuleba asked for a $500 million loan and requested Israel treat more wounded soldiers than it already does.

Cohen also reopened the Israeli embassy in Kyiv. Zelensky said after the meeting with the Israeli FM that Iran was “the common enemy” of Israel and Ukraine.

To this, Cohen replied that Iran’s evil face had become visible in Ukraine, and announced Israel would give Ukraine a $200 million loan and also supply missile strike warning systems to the country.

With Cohen’s visit, the new government in Jerusalem failed to live up to expectations about the course Israel would take in the war in Eastern Europe.

After all, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long maintained a special relationship with Putin, but now seems to realize that Israel can no longer stand idly by in Europe’s most serious conflict since World War II.

The clearest indication of this was Cohen’s visit to Ukraine and his remark there that Israel is “committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the country.

Russia was clearly irritated by Cohen’s visit to Kyiv as Russian state television spoke of a visit to a “Nazi state.”

Last week Israel also voted for a UN resolution that called for Russia to end its aggression against Ukraine and to withdraw its forces from the country.

Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan wrote on Twitter that Israel “will continue to support the Ukrainian people” and called for “a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine.”

President Zelensky has now reportedly invited PM Netanyahu for a visit to Kyiv, but it remains to be seen if the Israeli leader will accept the invitation at this point in time.

Netanyahu recently hinted he could pick up the role of mediator between the sides, a role that former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett also played for a while at the beginning of the war.

Zelensky, however, defiantly rejected Netanyahu’s idea to become a mediator, and bluntly stated that Israel should take the side of Ukraine in the war with Russia.

The Likud leader is also under pressure from members of his own party to start delivering the weapons Zelensky repeatedly requested.

A Knesset delegation headed by prominent Likud MK Yuli Edelstein visited Kyiv a week after FM Cohen, and declared that there must be “tangible cooperation between Israel and Ukraine in air and missile defense.”


Immigration and work permits

Israel is also involved in the war in Ukraine in another way, and that is by issuing thousands of work permits to workers from the beleaguered state.

The Israeli Ministry of Immigration also helps with the absorption of tens of thousands of Jews who want to flee or have already fled Ukraine.

Ten days ago, for example, a plane full of Jews who made ‘aliyah’ from Ukraine landed at Ben Gurion Airport.

After arriving in Israel, some of them relayed the horrors they had gone through and said they came from “a hell on earth.”

Since the start of the war, 15,213 Jews from Ukraine have immigrated to Israel, and the Immigration Ministry expects tens of thousands more to follow this year.

Koen Carlier, the head of the Christians for Israel relief team, reported from Ukraine that there are many obstacles his team must overcome to help the Jewish community there.

“Older members of this community in particular often do not want to leave their old Soviet-era apartments, and would rather die there than have to flee,” Carlier told Israel Today.

There is also the mobilization law that prevents men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving Ukraine, and as a result some of the women decided to stay in the country, too, according to Carlier.

“We now have a year of wartime experience evacuating and repatriating Jews through mainly Moldova to Israel, and we will continue to do so as long as we can,” Carlier reported from Kyiv.

“Our evacuation buses are on standby in Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania while we also have sufficient stocks of diesel, food, and all kinds of other things.

“We are in constant contact with many Jewish communities and their leaders who know that we are ready to help them where necessary. We will also continue to provide food packages and meals on wheels to elderly Jewish people, Holocaust survivors, and refugees.”



Carlier’s team will almost surely need to evacuate more Jews from Ukraine as the war is only escalating and new players are entering the fray, while Putin is again indicating that he is mulling the use of nuclear weapons.

China is now teaming up with Russia and has offered to deliver advanced weaponry to the theater of war, while last week Russia suspended its participation in the nuclear START treaty with the USA.

This happened at the moment President Biden was touring east European countries and made a surprise visit to Zelensky in Kyiv.

The US President vowed in Poland that Russia would never win the war in Ukraine, and told Zelensky that the USA will back Ukraine in its fight against Putin’s Russia “for as long as it takes.”

As things stand now, the war between Russia and Ukraine is rapidly becoming a global conflict that is mainly about ending the old world order dominated by the West.


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