Israel won’t sell Ukraine its Iron Dome defense out of respect for Russia

JERUSALEM — Moscow’s deadly air assault on Ukrainian cities has intensified pressure on Western nations to send air defense systems to the beleaguered country, but it is still unlikely to receive any of the the world’s most effective tools against incoming projectiles.

Israel’s Iron Dome air defense, which boasts a 90% success rate against rockets fired at it, will remain out of Ukraine’s reach, experts say, as Jerusalem seeks to maintain strategic ties with Russia in Syria and other hotspots.

Israel’s Defense and Foreign Ministries and Prime Minister’s Office uniformly declined to comment on Wednesday on longstanding demands by Ukraine and its supporters that it donate, sell or loan the system to Ukraine. , including calls from Monday’s roadblock.

Russia hits Kyiv and cities across Ukraine after Crimean Bridge attack

“Israel has great experience with air defense and Iron Dome, and we need the exact same system in our city,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in an interview Tuesday, a day after six residents were killed in the strikes. “We have been talking about it for a long time with them. These discussions were unsuccessful.

Iron Dome uses radar-directed interceptors to launch hostile projectiles from the sky. Israel depends on it to protect civilians from rockets fired by militants in the Gaza Strip, with resounding success. The system knocked down more than 97% of the 470 rockets fired by Islamic Jihad forces in Gaza during a three-day escalation in August, according to the IDF.

Iron Dome is not designed to intercept the type of large guided missile used in most barrages that killed at least 20 people in Kyiv, Lviv, Dnipro and other cities on Monday, according to military experts in Israel and Washington .

But Ukrainians say the array could help protect residents of Grad and other smaller rockets that have destroyed apartment buildings, shopping malls and train stations along the shifting front.

“It will certainly be useful because the Russians are also sending drones, they are sending different types of rockets,” Klitchko said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Tuesday that Moscow was deploying nearly 2,500 attack drones purchased from Iran.

The strikes propelled Ukraine’s air defense to the top of the agenda at NATO defense ministers’ meetings this week in Brussels. Countering Russian strikes, they said, will require a patchwork of systems targeting different scales of weapons supplied by multiple countries.

Since Monday, Kyiv has redoubled its demands for nations to respond. “Air defense is currently the #1 priority for our defense cooperation,” Zelensky said in a tweet.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has pleaded with member states to increase air defense capability in Ukraine, and several have said they are looking for ways to comply. Washington will send two advanced surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine “in the coming weeks”, a US defense official said on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Israeli officials declined to say whether the new initiatives would change the country’s stance on Iron Dome. Jerusalem’s reluctance, which has not changed since war broke out in February, has drawn the ire of Ukrainian officials, including its ambassador to Israel and, on several occasions, Zelensky.

“Everyone knows your missile defense systems are the best,” Zelensky said as he pleaded for help from Israel’s parliament in the spring.

“I don’t know what happened to Israel,” he said in an interview with French channel TV5 on September 23. “I’m in shock, because I don’t understand why they couldn’t give us air defenses.

Israeli officials are largely silent, and reports have variously attributed their refusal to a lack of inventory and flaws in the system against cruise missiles. But most analysts say the decision is driven by the perception that Israel cannot arm Ukraine directly without severing its strategic cooperation with Russia in Syria and other flashpoints that are a top priority for Israel.

In Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has largely given free rein to Israeli warplanes to attack Iranian-backed militants whom Israel accuses of transporting weapons to allies in Syria and Lebanon.

“It’s just fear of Putin,” said Yossi Melman, a longtime intelligence analyst and commentator who has denounced Israel’s refusal to provide Iron Dome and other material aid as “morally unconscious.”

“It’s a shame,” Melman said. “We preach humanity and good and evil to the world, but when it comes to our international positions, only our narrowest security concerns are taken into account.”

Kyiv braces for prolonged difficulties as Russia threatens further strikes

Israel has been criticized for its response to the Russian invasion from the start, when then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett steered clear of the global condemnation raining down on Putin and instead came forward , briefly, as a neutral mediator.

Since then, Israeli officials have highlighted the non-military assistance they have provided, including expediting the arrival of thousands of Jewish refugees from Ukraine, providing bulletproof vests to non-combatants and operating a hospital in countryside near the border between Ukraine and Poland. And the country has become more critical of Russian actions, especially since Prime Minister Yair Lapid assumed the top job.

“I strongly condemn the Russian attacks on the civilian population in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine,” Lapid tweeted after Monday’s attacks. “I send our sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the people of Ukraine.”

US officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Israel’s Iron Dome position and whether they would accept a transfer. The system was developed with financial assistance from Washington, and both governments have veto power over sharing proposals.

A congressional aide familiar with the matter said the administration apparently did not directly ask Israel to change its position, despite widespread acknowledgment that Iron Dome is the type of “close system that could be effective there.” “.

“Ukraine asked Israel, and Israel refused to supply,” the aide said. “Every time we asked [the administration] on this they shrewdly dodge and say something like “we appreciate any states willing to provide assistance”.

Missy Ryan and Kostiantyn Khudov in Kyiv and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.

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