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Ukraine notes contrast as U.S. coalition protected Israel from strikes

By Siobhán O'Grady and Kostiantyn Khudov Washington Post

KYIV - When Iran unleashed hundreds of deadly missiles and drones at Israel this weekend, Israelis relied on a crucial tool that Ukraine still does not have: instant, direct assistance from the United States and other partners with military assets in the region.

For more than two years, Ukraine has faced Russian missile and drone attacks, often including Iranian-made Shahed drones like the ones Tehran used on Saturday. As a shield, Ukraine relies on a hodgepodge of air defense systems provided by Western partners, including three U.S.-designed Patriot batteries manned by Ukrainian troops. This month, the biggest power station serving Kyiv was destroyed. Civilian casualties are common.

By contrast, as the weapons launched from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen advanced toward their targets in Israel this weekend, U.S. forces prepared to react with fighter jets, a Patriot battery in Iraq and U.S. destroyer ships. Britain, France and Jordan also stepped up to assist. Together with Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, they knocked down 99 percent of the some 300 missiles and drones - averting major damage.

The discrepancy in response was not lost on observers in Ukraine.

Last week alone, Russia launched nearly 130 Shahed drones, 80 missiles and 700 guided aerial bombs at Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Sunday. Ukraine relied on its own troops and its dwindling supplies of ammunition. But the immediate international response to Iran’s attack on Israel proved that modern air defense can save lives and that such defense is possible, Zelensky said.

“The whole world saw that Israel was not alone in this defense - the threat in the sky was also being eliminated by its allies,” Zelensky said. “And when Ukraine says that its allies should not turn a blind eye to Russian missiles and drones, it means action is needed - a bold one.”

“It is not rhetoric that protects the sky, it is not opinions that curb the production of missiles and drones for terror,” he added.

But with a $60 billion aid package stalled in Congress, Ukraine is urgently running out of ammunition and other supplies needed to keep up its own defense against airstrikes.

Like Zelensky, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba referred to the direct help that partners provided to Israel. “Even if you cannot act the way you act in Israel, give us what we need and we will do the rest of the job,” Kuleba said.

Fearful that direct conflict with Russia could escalate into nuclear war, the United States and other NATO countries repeatedly have dismissed the idea of direct troop involvement in Ukraine. When French President Emmanuel Macron recently said that sending soldiers should not be ruled out, other Western leaders quickly denounced the suggestion as dangerous.

Ukrainian officials say they need 26 Patriot systems, which each cost more than $1 billion, to cover the entire country.

Kuleba has recently ramped up his pressure on Ukraine’s supporters to try to secure them. So far, only Germany has agreed, announcing on Saturday that it will send one Patriot to Ukraine.

Some Ukrainians expressed hope that the largely thwarted attack on Israel would spur action on Capitol Hill, where the aid for Ukraine could be tied to further support for Israel.

And Ukrainian officials were not the only ones drawing comparisons to the Middle East.

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, posting on X, formerly Twitter, commended Israel for repelling the attack. “Now it would be useful to strengthen Israel’s antimissile defense and equip Ukraine with similar systems,” Sikorski wrote. “The easiest way is to unlock the aid package for Ukraine and Israel.”

In a new report on Monday, the Institute for the Study of War noted that Israel’s successful defense against Iran’s attack “underscores the vulnerabilities that Ukrainian geography and the continued degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella pose for Ukrainian efforts to defend against regular Russian missile and drone strikes.”

Ukraine’s geographic proximity to Russia also poses a challenge, with missiles and drones often traveling only short distances to reach their targets, giving Ukraine just minutes to react. By comparison, Israel and its partners had several hours to prepare for the weekend strikes, the ISW report said.

In Ukraine, others described the disadvantage more bluntly.

Celebrated Ukrainian novelist Oksana Zabuzhko wrote on Facebook that Israel faced an opponent “before whom the West does not fall on its back in a position of canine humility.” In Jordan, she noted, Israel also had a neighbor who assisted in stopping the strikes.

“We don’t have any of that,” she wrote. (In February 2022, Belarus, Ukraine’s neighbor, allowed Russian troops to cross its territory.)

Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Osadchuk wrote on Facebook that “if suddenly the air force of NATO countries want to shoot down Iranian drones in the sky of Israel more effectively, they can train for free in Ukraine.”

Others said the multinational defense of Israel showed Ukraine to be isolated.

“What conclusion should Ukraine draw? We can only count on ourselves,” Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko wrote on Telegram. Iran said the attack on Israel was in self-defense, he wrote. “Have we heard this before?” he wrote, referencing Russia’s excuses for invading Ukraine.

Russia also responded to Iran’s strikes, by calling for restraint.

“The situation in the Middle East has become as heated as it may get and the conflict risks escalating to a regionwide confrontation,” Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, said a Security Council meeting on Monday. “The spiral of confrontation and bloodshed must stop.”

Speaking of the Iranian strikes on Sunday morning, Nebenzya reminded the audience about the strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, which preceded Iran’s attack on Israel. Nebenzya criticized certain members of the Security Council for their reluctance to clearly condemn the Israeli airstrike in the Syrian capital.

“The parade of hypocrisy and double standards that is unfolding in the Security Council today is so gross,” he said, referring to the West’s readiness to criticize Iran but not Israel.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said that the successful defense of Israel showed the need for a “mandatory hard power response” to such attacks.

“’Answer or die!’ - should be the unequivocal rule against those who seek to destroy global stability,” Podolyak posted on X.