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October 21, 2022 12:06 pm
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Russia is ‘European Hezbollah,’ Says Top Ukrainian Official in Renewed Plea for Israeli Military Aid

avatar by Ben Cohen

Ukrainian police officers shoot at an Iranian drone in the skies above Kyiv. Photo: Reuters/Vadim Sarakhan

The head of the Ukrainian president’s office has described Russia as “the European Hezbollah” during a conversation with Jewish leaders in which he issued a further appeal for Israeli military aid to combat the ongoing Russian invasion.

“Russia is a terrorist state that today uses Iran in its fight against the US and its allies, including Israel,” Andriy Yermak — chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — told participants in Thursday’s online meeting.

“Russia is the European Hezbollah,” he added, referring to the Lebanese Shi’a terrorist group that is backed by the Iranian regime.

Ukraine has been urging Israel to match its humanitarian aid with military assistance since the onset of the Russian invasion at the end of February. In recent days, the appeal has taken on added urgency, as Russia has deployed Iranian-manufactured drones against Ukrainian population centers to devastating effect. Earlier this week, the Ukrainian armed forces said they had shot down more than 200 Iranian Shahed-136 drones in the space of a month, as reports emerged that Iran was preparing to supply its Russian ally with Arash-2 drones, which carry a bigger payload, as well as Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar missiles, two short-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets at distances of between 200 and 500 miles.

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Yermak noted that Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz had announced earlier this week that Jerusalem would “assist in the development of a life-saving civilian early-warning system” to counter the worst effects of the Russian missile and drone assaults, but stopped short of offering weaponry, telling EU ambassadors that this was “due to a variety of operational considerations.” Ukraine’s Ambassador in Tel Aviv, Yevhen Kornichuk, responded to the Israeli offer by saying that it was “not relevant anymore,” reiterating his country’s request to purchase Iron Beam, Barak-8, Patriot, Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow interceptors from Israel.

For his part, Yermak did not reject the Israeli offer but stressed that the government in Kyiv regarded Israel’s missile defense shield as one of the world’s most “powerful,” arguing that its introduction would significantly boost Ukraine’s ability to withstand further Russian attacks.

The meeting also heard from the Chief Rabbi of Kyiv, Yaakov Dov Bleich, who encouraged his colleagues in the Jewish community to impress upon Israelis that “in this historical struggle, Israel must be on the side of truth and protecting people’s lives.”

The challenge facing Ukraine was “not about politics, not about elections, but about a war against people, against the nation,” Bleich emphasized.

Ukraine’s appeals for Israeli military assistance have generated an intense debate in the country’s media, with one commentator urging the Kyiv government to tread cautiously, given that Israel will hold a general election on Nov. 1.

“If official Kyiv goes too far with its demands, it risks losing friends among Israeli politicians,” wrote political columnist Yuri Vasilchenko in the depo.ua news outlet.

“It should be understood that the supply of weapons to Ukraine may become a topic of political speculation in Israel, so the current government will not give an unambiguous answer until the end of the election campaign,” he continued.

Vasilchenko asserted that, nonetheless, “deepening cooperation between intelligence agencies, military-technical cooperation specifically on the issue of Iranian drones is something that we can do now.”

He pointed out that “Israel has been living in an aggressive environment since its creation … and therefore evaluates the world in terms of risks to its own security.”

Vasilchenko went on to argue that “Iranian drones attacking Ukrainian cities and villages are a potential risk to Israel’s national security. And in this area we definitely have common ground. As for other areas of military cooperation, it should be remembered here that public diplomacy often harms. It’s best to negotiate things like this quietly. And in this, by the way, we can learn from the Israelis.”

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