Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized Israel’s decision to remain neutral in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine on Monday, claiming that Tel Aviv’s reluctance to engage in the conflict had strengthened the cooperation between Russia and Iran.
Speaking to the “Haaretz Democracy Conference,” a summit convened by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on Monday, the Ukrainian leader repeated an earlier request for Israel to share its Iron Dome anti-missile system, which he claimed could save thousands of Ukrainian lives amidst Russia’s bombing campaign against Ukrainian cities. Zelensky emphasized that Ukraine was winning on the battlefield but noted that his country “still do[es] not have a modern and effective air defense and missile defense system that could secure our skies.”
Israel has long maintained a complicated relationship with Russia. Roughly 1.5 million Russian Jews live in Israel and the two countries have cooperated on some political matters. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Israel has offered humanitarian assistance to Kyiv and has repeatedly voted to condemn Moscow in United Nations General Assembly votes, and Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid has publicly voiced support for Ukraine in the conflict. Lapid has also condemned attacks against Zelenskyy on the basis of his Jewish faith, including comments by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in May.
However, Tel Aviv has consistently declined to provide lethal aid and Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz flatly refused to share Iron Dome systems with Kyiv during a call with Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov on Monday.
Zelensky emphasized in his remarks to Haaretz that the decision to preserve Tel Aviv’s relationship with Moscow had emboldened Iran to provide greater support to Russia without elaborating on the connection.
“This alliance of theirs would not have happened if your politicians had made only one decision at the time,” Zelensky said, referring to the Russo-Iranian political and military partnership. “It seems that it was adopted a long time ago—in 2014, when Russia began its aggression against Ukraine.”
Iran has denied selling drones to Russia and Moscow has denied buying them, although Ukraine’s ministry of defense has released photographs of several drones allegedly sourced from Iran and repainted with Russian markings. Zelensky claimed in his remarks that Russia had ordered roughly 2,000 Shahed-136 kamikaze drones from Tehran, and Iran had deployed instructors to train Russian operators on their use.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.