When Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October (coincidentally or not, Putin’s birthday), Ukraine’s defence ministry announced its support for Israel’s right to self-defence and Kyivans brought flowers to the Israeli embassy.
So what? Ukrainians say the Hamas atrocities in areas bordering the Gaza strip resembled to Ukrainians what the Russian army did in Bucha. In both conflicts it’s also true that
- American weapons will be critically important in determining the outcome; and
- if not contained, they could become global.
Conditional friendship. Ukraine and Israel have deep human ties thanks to the thousands of Ukrainian Jews repatriated to Israel. Golda Meir was born in Kyiv and crowds of Hasidic Jews visit Tzaddik Nachman’s grave in Uman every Rosh Hashanah. But relations between the two countries have never been cloudless. After Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, Israel
- stopped visa-free travel for Ukrainians;
- refused to accept Ukrainian refugees;
- refused to donate weapons; and
- refused to impose sanctions against Russia and in fact increased trade with it.
Ukraine, in turn, could not vote against UN resolutions on Israel occupying Palestinian territories, given Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Despite that, polls show that more than half of Ukrainians consider Israel a friendly country.
Keep it local. Starting in 2014, the main task for both Ukraine and the West in the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been containment, says the writer and broadcaster Vitaliy Portnikov. Ukraine’s current government failed on containment and the West mistakenly thought Putin wouldn’t attempt a full scale invasion. Israel in turn chose neutrality vis-a-vis Russia, which may now try to globalise the conflict in the Middle East, Far East or Africa if it can’t take new territory in Ukraine.
Weapons hunger. The Gaza strip is similar to Kharkiv in terms of surface area, and Kharkiv is merely a dot on the map of Ukraine.
Even so, the Israel-Hamas conflict has deepened concerns about US military aid to Ukraine. Cuts were on the table before the Israel-Gaza conflict as Republicans gained a majority in the House, but Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says it’s quite possible for the US to help arm Ukraine, Israel and even Taiwan at the same time.
In demand. Of 100 items listed on the US Department of Defense’s latest fact sheet on military aid to Ukraine, only a dozen are in short supply, and only a few Ukrainian and Israeli military needs overlap. Those that do include:
- Patriot air defence missiles;
- counter-drone systems;
- uncrewed aerial systems
- Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kits for guiding air-dropped bombs;
- StormBreaker small diameter bombs; and
- Stinger infantry-portable anti-aircraft missiles (extremely limited in US stockpiles).
Israel’s ground war in Gaza is expected to be shorter than Russia’s in Ukraine. But Israel is historically closer to the US and the US has a more effective pro-Israel lobby. Israel will therefore take precedence in US policymaker’s minds, and the longer war lasts, the longer its military wish list will be.
War and peace. Ukraine has to collaborate not just with the US but with Israel in terms of both countries’ military needs. Reports soon after 7 October indicated a shipment of 155 mm shells intended for Ukraine was redirected to Israel but broadly speaking their needs are distinct.
Entrenched Russian defence lines in occupied Ukraine cannot be attacked without air support. That means F-16 fighters in significant numbers, but Israel is not competing for them. By one estimate it already has more than 300; another reason for Zelensky to stay close.
aLSO, in the nibs
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