Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s visit to Ukraine on Thursday, Feb. 16, made him the first senior Israeli minister to reach Kiev since the outbreak of the Russian war on Ukraine. It also signified a turning point in Israel’s non-military aid policy for Kiev’s war effort, say DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources – namely, a willingness for the first time to consider contributing “defensive weapons.”
This changed attitude is spurred by the strengthening of military cooperation between Moscow and Iran and their joint plans to manufacture 6,000 advanced autonomous armed drones for the use of Russian forces in its coming spring offensive in Ukraine. Until this deal emerged, Israel was chary of antagonizing Moscow so long as its air force won a free hand for anti-Iran operations in Syria.
However, it is now feared in Israel that Iran’s Russian-backed development of advanced drones could steal the Israel air force’s superiority over Iranian air might. Tehran’s deal with Moscow may moreover be a defining factor in its strategic preparations for a potential US-Israeli assault on its nuclear program.
Intelligence sources have taken note that Iranian technicians and air force personnel are present at the Iranian-Russian drone factory site in Yelabuga, 960 km east of Moscow. From there and from Crimea, they are involved in stepping up the pace of drone attacks against Ukrainian targets. On Thursday, Feb. 16, 30 suicide drones were aimed from those places into Ukraine.
Israel is finding it unacceptable for Iranian crews to gain expertise in the use of those drones from their experience in Ukraine, as well as learning Russian stealth tactics against Ukraine’s air defense systems.
The Biden administration has stepped in at this point and sugested that Israel provide Kiev with its newly- developed laser-based defense system, which is capable of killing the latest generation of attack drones. Dubbed Light Blade (Lahav Or), it was designed by Prof. Prof. Amiel Ishaaya of Ben-Gurion University to bring down the new autonomous attack drones, which operate via on-board sensors and cameras without a communication link, by shooting them down before they reach their target. Operating on a lower frequency makes Light Blade is safe to use in urban environments.
On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Danny Gold, head of development and research at the Defense Ministry, disclosed: “Israel can shoot down the Iranian drones used by Russia in its war on Ukraine.” He went on to report that Israel has conducted “multiple successful tests destroying rockets and mortars using a sophisticated laser weapons system.” Gold added that the same concept can be applied to shoot down unmanned aerial vehicles including the Iranian drones that are being used by Russia against Ukraine.”
In Kiev on Thursday, neither Israel’s Eli Cohen nor his host, foreign minister Dmitry Kuleba,were forthcoming about any agreements reached in the hour they spent with President Vladimir Zelensky. Cohen said Israel would support the Ukraine peace plan to be unveiled next week. Kuleba said that Kiev is grateful for Israel’s humanitarian assistance and added: “We talked about other things as well that Israel can do to help. Israel is familiar with our shopping list.”