Zelenskyy-Netanyhu Phone Call:
- On Thursday, September 7, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the “first official call since the current Israeli government’s inauguration last December.”
- They discussed their mutual visa-free agreement, Jewish pilgrims traveling to Uman, Ukraine for Rosh Hashana, and Israel’s commitment to provide Ukraine with humanitarian aid and defensive security systems.
- Zelenskyy expressed concern about the “increased number of refusals” for Ukrainian citizens entering Israel under the visa-free regime.
- Around 10% of Ukrainians are denied entry to Israel according to Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevhen Korniichuk.
- In August, Korniichuk mentioned suspending visa-free travel with Israel due to the deportations and entry restrictions.
- In the first half of 2023, Israel deported 2,037 Ukrainian citizens, compared to 2,705 for all of 2022. Israel has justified deportations on the suspicion of illegal use of tourist visas for work or settlement purposes.
- The leaders also addressed the safe entry and security of the pilgrims traveling to Uman.
- Due to security concerns, Netanyahu attempted to dissuade Israelis from traveling to Ukraine saying, “God has not always protected us, not on European soil and not on Ukrainian soil.”
- To secure safety at the Ukrainian land border, the Israeli government approved $1 million in aid for the tens of thousands of pilgrims as there is no air travel to Ukraine at this time.
- Netanyahu said that they addressed continuing Israeli aid to Ukraine, including refugees from Ukraine staying in Israel and the development of a civil air defense system that was promised in February, but has yet to be delivered in full.
- In February, Ukraine received promises from Israel of $200 million for healthcare and civil infrastructure.
Israeli Reluctance to Provide Weapons in Ukraine:
- Israel maintains that providing Ukraine with civil defenses and aid is a balanced approach, given their "situation."
- Israel supplies Ukraine with humanitarian aid and lifesaving defensive equipment but not weapons systems, due to its desire to maintain coordination with Russia against Iranian targets in Syria.
- Tel Aviv is concerned that if it provides Ukraine with weapons, Russia will retaliate and limit Israel’s freedom of action in Syria. Additionally, Israeli weapons could fall into Iranian hands.
- The cultural and humanitarian cooperation between Ukraine and Israel is supported by the 500,000 Ukrainians in Israel, and the 100,000 members of the Jewish faith in Ukraine.
- Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Ukraine in February and is the highest-level Israeli official to do so since the Russian invasion.
- Zelenskyy has requested that Netanyahu visit as a sign of solidarity, though the Israeli Prime Minister has not.
- Both countries have a shared adversary in Iran. In 2022, Iran became one of the few nations that officially supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- By December 2022, Iran reportedly supplied Russia with 1,700 drones capable of suicide bombings, surveillance, and combat, with plans in February to produce around 6,000 more.