Israel’s Strategic Interest in Ukraine Is Changing Because of Iran

Israel’s Strategic Interest in Ukraine Is Changing Because of Iran
Firefighters help a local woman evacuate from a building destroyed by a Russian drone strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Oct. 17, 2022. (Roman Petushkov/Reuters)
Stephen Bryen
Updated:
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Commentary

Despite frequent appeals and complaints from Ukrainian leaders, Israel has refused requests to provide weapons to Ukraine. Ukraine is now suffering barrages of cruise missiles and suicide drones hitting targets across Ukraine, weapons that are destroying Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.

Israel knows and is deeply concerned that Iran is allegedly supplying Russia with a number of different drones, including the Shahed-136, and may soon be sending tactical missiles to Russia as well.
One of the missiles Iran may reportedly send to Russia is the Fateh-110. Fateh-110 is a solid-fuel rocket that has a range of 186 miles (300 km) and carries a 1,433-pound (650 kg) warhead. Fateh comes in different variants.

The other missile Iran reportedly plans to supply is the Zolfaghar, which is an extended-range variant of the Fateh-110. Its range is 435 miles (700 km). It uses Russia’s Glonass (GNSS) GPS for guidance.

Russia is running low on its own missile stockpile and needs Iran’s rockets and drones to stay in the war. Russia apparently tried to get help from China and North Korea, but neither was willing to do so.
The Shahed-136 is a loitering munition, also known as a suicide drone. The Russians have reportedly rebadged it as the Geran-2 and claim to have improved it. The Shahed uses Russia’s Glonass GPS for navigation, and its targets are preselected. The drone has no camera, so it depends entirely on GPS coordinates. The Shahed is slow flying but has a long range. It’s made out of a plastic composite, so it has a relatively small radar signature.
Russian cruise missiles and alleged Iranian drones have already taken down around 30 percent of Ukraine’s civilian electrical power infrastructure. If attacks continue, as anticipated, Ukraine will be facing considerable difficulties, especially as the weather deteriorates in winter.
Ukraine has specifically asked Israel for its highly successful Iron Dome system. Iron Dome has shot down thousands of Hamas short-range missiles and has been tested successfully at the White Sands U.S. Army proving grounds against simulated cruise missile targets. Iron Dome is a joint Israel-U.S. program.
Israel’s chief concern until now has been not angering the Russians. For a number of years, Israel has had a deconfliction agreement with Russia covering Israeli operations in Syrian airspace. That agreement has allowed Israeli air force raids against Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria. Hezbollah, with the help of Iranian specialists, has been bringing more accurate and dangerous missiles and armed drones into Syria for use against Israel. In addition, Iran, Syria, and North Korea built a nuclear reactor in Syria that would have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. Israel was able to launch an operation to destroy the reactor.
Most Israeli air operations over Syria require Russian acquiescence. Russia put air defenses under its own control in Syria at its airbase at Khmeimim and near Tartus, its naval port. Recently, Russia reportedly pulled an S-300 air defense system from Syria along with 1,200 troops, probably redeploying them to Ukraine. As recently as last spring, Israel and Russia reaffirmed the deconfliction agreement, Israel calling the agreement a “core interest.”
In spite of Israel’s clear statement that it wants to preserve its ties to Russia, Ukraine has kept on pressing Israel demanding Israeli weapons and military support. Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, made himself unavailable recently for a call from Ukraine’s defense minister, trying to sidestep Ukrainian demands. Trying to clear up the kerfuffle, Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba trying to soften the blow of Israel’s refusal so far to sell arms to Ukraine and explaining to the Ukrainian foreign minister Israel’s worry over Iran’s alleged involvement with Russia.

In fact, the character of the war in Ukraine is changing as Ukrainian forces are pushing Russia’s army back and inflicting heavy casualties and major equipment losses on them. As Russia’s position worsens, analysts in the United States and UK are worried Russia could use unconventional weapons against Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia is stepping up attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure where they are, so far, allegedly using Iranian suicide drones effectively.

Ukraine is clearly feeling the pain, hence their campaign to get air defense systems and fixation on Israel’s Iron Dome system, which they consider highly effective.

The Ukrainians can make a case that Iron Dome would protect electricity power plants and pumping stations and other purely civilian installations, giving Israel an excuse to act if it wants to do so. This may be the fulcrum for an Israeli decision, since Iron Dome would not in this context directly support Ukraine’s war-fighting capabilities.

Until now Israel has managed to sidestep Ukraine and the danger supporting Ukraine posed to Israeli interests. But Iran is a threat to Israel, and Iran is allegedly gaining battlefield experience in Ukraine, which is definitely not in Israel’s interest. More importantly, the alliance between Russia and Iran means that Iran will be in a position to make demands on Russia. One of them surely will be for Russia to drop the deconfliction agreement and oppose Israeli operations over Syria against Hezbollah and IRGC Iranian forces and supply lines.

Israel is facing a hard decision. It can continue the policy it has without change or it can find a way to oblige Ukraine and help it secure its power plants, dams, and other civilian facilities. As Russia now needs Iran more than Israel, the decision to supply Iron Dome has become much easier for Israel.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Dr. Stephen Bryen is regarded as a thought leader on technology security policy, twice being awarded the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Public Service Medal. A Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy, Senior Fellow, Yorktown Institute, his most recent book is “Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers.”
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