(JPost) WILL DEFENSE TIES INCREASE BETWEEN ISRAEL AND THE UKRAINE?

(JPost) According to Ukrainian media, over $1.3 billion dollars allocated by the United States to strengthen Kiev’s defensive capabilities.

A UKRAINIAN military vehicle rushes to the front as fighting flares in Ukraine between separatists a

A UKRAINIAN military vehicle rushes to the front as fighting flares in Ukraine between separatists and the government.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel has been selling military equipment to Ukraine for over two decades, and with the election of Jewish comedian and novice politician Volodymyr Zelensky, there is a good chance to increase defense ties between the two countries.

Israel has maintained a neutral stance since the outbreak of the Donbass war with Russia in 2014, refraining many times from voting for Western-backed condemnations of Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.Last Thursday, Ukrainian Armed Forces Chief of General Staff Viktor Muzhenko warned that a chance still remains of full-blown war breaking out between Ukraine and Russia.

“The peculiarity of the Russian-Ukrainian war is that within one hour it can turn into a full-scale conventional conflict involving land, naval, aviation components and special operations forces,” Muzhenko said in an interview with Ukraine’s Fakty i Kommentariinewspaper.

The conflict has killed more than 13,000 people (approximately 3,300 of them civilians) according to the UN Monitoring Mission on Human Rights, and has led Ukraine to refurbish their military with large contracts for new NATO-friendly military equipment.

According to Ukrainian media, over $1.3 billion has been allocated by the United States to strengthen Kiev’s defensive capabilities. US Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations Kurt Volker said that Washington is considering the possibility of supplying more anti-tank missiles, as well as air defense and coastal defense systems to Kiev.

“They are losing soldiers every week defending their own country,” Volker was quoted by The Guardian as saying in September. “And so in that context it’s natural for Ukraine to build up its military, engage in self-defense, and it’s natural to seek assistance and is natural that other countries should help them. And of course they need lethal assistance because they’re being shot at.”

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak announced in March that 120 new types of military equipment had been recently introduced in the Ukrainian armed forces and that the military is working to design new reconnaissance systems, electronic warfare systems, new reconnaissance vehicles, and radar systems “to significantly increase their [Ukrainian Armed Forces] capabilities.”

And that possibly opens the door to new contracts with Israeli companies.

Israel’s Defense Ministry and companies like Elbit and Rafael would not divulge to The Jerusalem Post any information on arms exports, but defense ties with Kiev are certainly in place.

In January, Ukrainian media reported that a memorandum of cooperation was signed between Israeli defense giant Elbit Systems and Ukraine’s Ukroboronprom for the development of joint projects in the areas of communications, surveillance and reconnaissance systems for the ground and air forces, air rescue equipment, radar stations, equipment for port protection and modernization of armored vehicles.

Elbit Systems is part of a group investing in Ukraine’s defense establishment. Elbit CEO Bezhalel Machlis said in March that the company’s sales in Europe accounted for 22.6% of its 2017 sales, a 20% increase from the previous year, largely due to European countries realizing the need to rebuild their defense systems in the face of the growing Russian presence in both Syria and Ukraine.

And while millions of dollars in revenues from an increase in contracts is possible, military ties between the Israel and Ukraine are likely to remain under the table.

During the January visit of an official Ukrainian delegation, Defense Minister Poltorak said that Kiev was considering the possibility of training Ukrainian troops in Israel at the IMI Academy for Advanced Security & Anti-Terror Training.

“The possibility of training members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine at that academy was considered during the meeting,” he was quoted by Ukrainian Press Service as saying at the time.

The academy, which specializes in training and projects in the fields of security and anti-terrorism, is a subsidiary of Israel Military Industries Ltd. and was recently bought by Elbit.

Israeli troops were also reportedly in Ukraine in October to train on the Russian S-300 missile defense system that was recently deployed to Syria. While Israel refused to comment on the matter, foreign reports said both Israel and the US had sent military delegations to Ukraine to train against the system.

Though the S-300 deployed to Syria remains in the hands of Russia, with which Israel has a deconfliction mechanism in place, it is only a matter of time before the system is handed over to the Assad regime and poses a real threat to Israeli jets.

While ties between Israel and Ukraine might remain largely hush-hush due to Israel’s fear of Russian wrath, considering the crises in Syria and Donbass, by exchanging experience fighting Russian-equipped forces, the two countries stand to gain much in ensuring their respective security.