The Daily Telegraph

Putin’s latest throw of the dice risks forcing Israel to openly take sides in war

Kyiv desperate for military technology to combat threat posed by a united Tehran and Moscow

- By James Rothwell in Jerusalem

‘The Iran-russia drone axis shows that Iran’s drones now pose a threat far beyond the Middle East’

Vladimir Putin’s use of Iranian suicide drones in Ukraine risks pulling Israel into the war and has raised the prospect of closer nuclear co-operation between Tehran and Moscow.

In ordering extensive drone attacks on Ukrainian cities, Putin has imported a weapon that has defined the Middle East’s conflicts into the heart of Europe.

Israel, which has unrivalled expertise in tackling Iran’s drone programme, is now facing immense pressure to join the United States and Europe in providing military technology to Ukraine.

Kyiv has been urgently lobbying Israel for air defence technology, while one Israeli government minister broke ranks at the weekend to publicly endorse armed support for Ukraine, fuelling speculatio­n that the country is about to join the fray. However, such a move could shatter Israel’s extremely delicate regional relationsh­ip with Russia, which for now has turned a blind eye to Israeli army operations in Syria against Iranian-backed forces.

Moscow is also threatenin­g to close down the Jewish Agency in Russia, which would potentiall­y wreck efforts to facilitate the emigration of Russian Jews to Israel.

Moreover, Israeli officials are said to be concerned that openly siding with Ukraine could destabilis­e its population of nine million, which includes about a million Russian Jews and 500,000 Ukrainians.

Then there is the nuclear issue. There have been few indication­s as to what Iran gains from Russia in return for sending drones, which may soon be followed by ballistic missile shipments.

But Iran has accelerate­d its nuclear programme this year, which Israel regards as an existentia­l threat, and appears to be forging an alliance with nuclear-armed Russia.

On Sunday, one Israeli minister called on his government to give

Ukraine military support. Nachman Shai, the diaspora affairs minister, tweeted: “There is no longer any doubt where Israel should stand in this bloody conflict. The time has come for Ukraine to receive military aid as well, just as the USA and Nato countries provide.”

The tweet prompted an angry response from Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, who said that supplying weapons would “destroy all bilateral relations between our countries”.

Western-allied Gulf states, in particular the United Arab Emirates, are also no stranger to Iranian drone attacks.

On Jan 17, suicide drones launched by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels struck the city of Abu Dhabi, killing three civilians.

And, on July 29, a suspected Iranian drone strike on the Mercer Street vessel off the coast of Oman killed a British sailor and a Romanian captain.

It remains unclear what support, if any, the Gulf states might be willing to provide. Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to cut oil production amid a global energy crisis

triggered by Moscow has prompted accusation­s from Washington that it is siding with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.

Much of the debate over potential Israeli air support has focused on the Iron Dome, a billion-dollar intercepti­on system which protects Israeli cities from rockets launched by Hamas and other Palestinia­n militant groups in Gaza.

Sources familiar with Israel’s military strategy say this is a red herring, arguing that the Iron Dome – which covers the tiny landmass of Israel – is not equipped for dealing with ballistic missiles in a territory as large as Ukraine.

However, the Iron Dome is capable of intercepti­ng drones, and reportedly worked well in taking down several during the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Gaza. Israeli soldiers also have a wealth of experience and expertise which could be shared with Ukrainian troops as well as non-iron Dome related hardware.

“The Iran-russia drone axis shows that Iran’s drones now pose a threat far beyond the Middle East,” said Seth Frantzman, an Israeli analyst and the author of the book Drone Wars, which was published last year.

Putin’s moves raise the threat of an alliance with Iran

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