May 25, 2022 - World

Scoop: Israel rejects U.S. request to approve missile transfer to Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers walk near the front line in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on April 14. Photo: Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukrainian soldiers walk near the front line in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on April 14. Photo: Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Israel turned down a U.S. request to allow Berlin to supply Ukraine with anti-tank missiles produced in Germany with Israeli technology under an Israeli license, two U.S. and Israeli officials said.

Why it matters: The issue of weapons supply is one of the last policy differences between the U.S. and Israel when it comes to the war.

  • Under pressure from the Biden administration, Israel has adjusted its policy toward Moscow and gradually taken a more pro-Ukraine position than it did when Russia began its invasion. But it has so far not supplied advanced weaponry to Ukraine.

Driving the news: Amir Eshel, director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, visited Washington two weeks ago for talks with Pentagon officials on security cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.

  • Colin Kahl, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, met with Eshel and raised the Biden administration’s efforts to get countries around the world to supply Ukraine with weapons, according to the U.S. and Israeli officials.
  • Kahl asked Eshel if Israel would give permission to Germany to transfer “Spike” anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, the officials said.
  • The missiles are produced in an Israeli-owned factory in Germany. According to the license, Israel must approve any transfer of the missiles to a third party.

Eshel rejected the request, telling Kahl that Israel will only supply Ukraine with nonlethal military equipment, the officials said.

  • A senior Israeli official said Israel is concerned Russian soldiers will be killed by Israeli-made weapons, which could lead to Russia harming Israeli security interests in Syria.
  • Between the lines: Russia holds enormous influence in Syria but allows Israel to operate freely against Iranian activity there.

State of play: When Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited Washington last week, the missile supply didn’t come up in his meetings with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to Israeli officials.

  • The officials said Gantz told Austin and Sullivan Israel is committed to supporting Ukraine and has started supplying it with nonlethal military equipment while also maintaining its security interests in the Middle East.
  • On the day Gantz arrived in Washington, Israel sent a shipment of 2,000 helmets and 500 protective vests for emergency and civilian organizations in Ukraine.

What they are saying: "We continue to discuss with allies and partners the ongoing situation in Ukraine and the need to support Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russian aggression, but we will not discuss the details of those conversations," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told me.

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