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2 Jan, 2023 18:34

Israel signals Ukraine policy shift

Newly installed Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Israel is formulating a “responsible” policy toward Ukraine
Israel signals Ukraine policy shift

Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has signaled that Tel Aviv will be making fewer public statements regarding the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, but confirmed that its “significant” humanitarian aid to Kiev will continue.

“We will do one thing for sure–in public, we will talk less,” Cohen said of the Ukraine conflict, in his inaugural speech to Foreign Ministry staff on Monday.

He said that his ministry is preparing “a detailed advisory” to be sent to the new cabinet “in order to formulate a responsible policy.”

“In any case, the significant humanitarian aid to Ukraine will continue,” Cohen added. He also confirmed he would be speaking directly with his counterpart Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for newly reinstated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government told the Times of Israel on Monday that the PM has yet to finalize his policy on Ukraine.

Relations between Russia and Israel soured following the launch of Moscow’s offensive in February. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid took a hard stance on the conflict, condemning Moscow publicly and accusing its forces of committing war crimes in Ukraine. 

In July, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Tel Aviv of “absolutely unconstructive” and “biased” comments on the conflict.

President Vladimir Zelensky’s government has repeatedly requested more military aid from Israel, specifically in the area of air defense. In November, then Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the country’s Iron Dome defense systems could not be sent to Ukraine as it does not have a “large enough production base” to satisfy an export market as well as its domestic needs.

Cohen's Monday comment was interpreted by Axios’ Middle East Correspondent Barak Ravid as a sign that Israel will be taking “a more pro-Russian line” on the conflict. International security professor and commenter Max Abrahms countered, however, saying it is not so much a pro-Russia line as a “pro-Israel line.”

Cohen, who was tapped as foreign minister by Netanyahu last Thursday, previously headed the economy and intelligence ministries.

In his speech, the FM also said that Israel’s relationship with the United States “stands at the top of our priorities” and that there is “no replacement for Israel-US ties.”