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Gantz and Netanyahu reiterate Israel's reluctance to sell arms to Ukraine

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu expressed on Tuesday their reluctance to change Israel’s policy of not sending defense equipment to Ukraine, in an expression of rare unity between coalition and opposition figures.

Speaking to the Ultra-Orthodox Kol Chai radio station, Gantz said, “We don’t sell weapons to Ukraine,” and instead pointed to Israel’s humanitarian aid and promised to continue such shipments for months until Russia invaded Ukraine.

Gantz also emphasized that Israel has not previously sold weapons to the country.

Gantz unexpectedly canceled a long-awaited meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, earlier this week without any explanation, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told the Maariv newspaper on Tuesday.

Korniychuk added that Ukraine is “disappointed” by this move and does not think that his country’s officials will talk to the defense minister from now on.

However, according to some Hebrew media reports, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will meet by phone on Thursday. Korniychuk said Ukraine was surprised by the planned phone call, given the upcoming elections and Lapid’s role as prime minister.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk made a statement to the press in Tel Aviv on March 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎/Flash90)

Meanwhile, in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Netanyahu praised the coalition government’s “cautionary” approach to Ukraine and stressed that Israel is embracing refugees and other humanitarian initiatives.

He also expressed concern about Israel selling weapons to Ukraine.

“There is always a possibility – and this has happened many times – when it comes to weapons,” the former prime minister told US television. Backed forces in the Golan Heights frequently use Israeli-made weapons in conflicts with the Jewish state.

Netanyahu added that he fears such a spread could happen if Israel sells weapons to Ukraine, and that the coalition’s “cautious” stance on not selling weapons to Ukraine is “important”.

The former prime minister also added that he feared that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could potentially become a worldwide nuclear conflict, which he described as “a threshold that has not been crossed for 77 years.”

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview with MSNBC on October 18, 2022. (Screenshot/MSNBC; used pursuant to Section 27a of the Copyright Act)

Earlier on Tuesday, Kuleba said the day after Moscow attacked energy and infrastructure facilities in Ukraine with drones, his country plans to submit a formal request to Israel asking for emergency air defense assistance.

Since the first days of the occupation, senior Ukrainian officials have asked Israel to send missile defense systems, especially the Iron Dome, in public speeches and private talks with decision makers in Jerusalem.

Despite expressing sympathy for the country’s plight, Israel has repeatedly turned down Kiev’s requests for defensive weapons, particularly missile defense systems that could be used to fend off Russian air strikes.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said earlier this week that he believes Israel should send weapons to Ukraine, a view not shared by most decision makers in the government.

Last Thursday, Korniychuk expressed his concern that Israel has not reconsidered its stance on the war despite demands for seven months.

“They tell us they are considering the possibility, but they are a democratic country and the decision has been taken by the defense cabinet,” he said.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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