Under U.S. Pressure, Israel Funded ‘Strategic Materials’ for Ukraine

European diplomats say the Biden administration demanded Israel expand its aid to Kyiv ■ The sources say Israel is also covertly aiding Ukraine with intelligence

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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A Ukrainian sapper inspects a destroyed building during the demining of a residential area in the Donetsk region, on Thursday.
A Ukrainian sapper inspects a destroyed building during the demining of a residential area in the Donetsk region, on Thursday.Credit: Andriy Andriyenko /AP
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

Under pressure from the U.S. administration, Israel recently agreed to finance “strategic materials” worth millions of U.S. dollars to contribute to the Ukrainian war effort.

Haaretz has learned from three senior European diplomatic officials that the United States approached the Israeli government a few weeks ago and pushed it to team up with NATO and the West in the struggle against Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

The Americans wanted Israel to supply Ukraine with anti-aircraft batteries, the European officials said. However, after talks between the two governments and deliberations by Israel’s leaders and the security establishment, it was agreed instead to fund the strategic materials.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved the decision, the officials say. Lapid’s office and the Defense Ministry declined to comment on this story.

The payment, worth several million dollars, was transferred to a NATO member state that is deeply involved in supplying military equipment to Ukraine. That member state purchased the strategic materials and sent them to Ukraine.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also requested that the strategic materials not be specifically identified. Their nature is known to Haaretz.

In addition, Haaretz has learned that the Defense Ministry recently eased its guidelines and agreed that NATO members such as the United Kingdom could supply Ukraine with weapons systems containing Israeli components like electro-optical and fire-control systems.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy listening to the national anthem during his visit to Kherson on Monday.Credit: /AP

U.S. sources previously revealed that Israel was assisting Ukraine with intelligence equipment and know-how. However, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov denied this last month, in an interview with Haaretz.

Israel asked all the parties involved in the strategic materials deal not to publicly reveal it, in order not to anger Putin.

These recent developments suggest that, under Lapid’s premiership, Israel has slightly shifted from the initial response designed by then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Gantz to “sit on the fence.”

Bennett was the first international leader to visit Putin in Moscow after the war broke out in February. He and Gantz were the architects of the original Israeli decision not to provide any assistance, including humanitarian aid, to the Zelenskyy government in Kyiv. It was only in March, in the face of international pressure and Israeli public opinion, that the government agreed to supply Ukraine with bulletproof vests and helmets for humanitarian aid workers in Ukraine, but not for its security forces.

Israel also later financed and deployed a field hospital at the border between Ukraine and Poland. Western leaders accused Israel’s politicians of sitting idly by in the face of the Ukrainian tragedy.

The apparent catalyst for change in the Lapid government was Iran’s decision to arm Russia with drones. Reznikov said Iran has sold at least 300 drones to Moscow, which are targeting civilians and key infrastructure sites in Ukraine.

An Iranian Shahed drone the Ukrainians say was downed near Kupiansk in September.Credit: Ukrainian military's Strategic Command

The decision to pay for the strategic materials was a one-off agreement, the European officials said, and it will now be up to the new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu to decide whether to continue with the arrangement.

During his election campaign, Netanyahu issued contradictory remarks on the Ukraine crisis. In one interview he said he would consider arming Ukraine with anti-aircraft batteries. However, in another he praised the Bennett-Lapid government for refraining from doing so.

Israel’s efforts to stay neutral in the Ukraine-Russia war are supported by its security chiefs, including outgoing Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Israel has expressed concern that any military supplies given to Ukraine, even defensive equipment, would anger Putin and that he would then retaliate by restricting Israel’s freedom of action to strike Iranian targets in Syria. So far, Putin and his military have turned a blind eye to the airstrikes attributed to Israel, and tacitly even encouraged Israel to act at will.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Defense Minister Reznikov have criticized Israel on numerous occasions for its “quasi-neutrality” in the war and asked it to at least provide air-defense systems such as Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Spyder and Barak.

In response to this story, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman avoided answering specific questions about the strategic materials. Instead, he issued an elaborate statement noting that the ministry has led “wide-range and unprecedented humanitarian assistance in response to Ukraine’s urgent emergency needs. They include a field hospital caring for refugees, supply of local energy via giant generators, more than one and half million water containers, water purification systems, hundreds of thousands of food packages, and more.”

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