Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu metTuesday evening with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the United Nations headquarters in New York, minutes after the Ukrainian president's speech at the UN General Assembly - in the first meeting of an Israeli prime minister with Zelensky since the outbreak of the war with Russia. Later Tuesday evening Netanyahu will also meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with US President Joe Biden.
Zelensky said at the beginning of the meeting that he "expects a lot from Israel, but there are not many problems in the relationship." When Netanyahu was asked if he would comply with Zelensky's demands, he replied: "Silence is worth its weight in gold." Both sides exuded tension and vigilance.
At the end of the meeting, Zelensky said that his meeting with the Israeli prime minister "was good." Netanyahu's office said in a statement that "the meeting was friendly," and that "Netanyahu made it clear that Israel will continue to assist Ukraine in humanitarian issues, including dealing with landmines."
Before the start of the meeting the Ukrainian president approached Mossad head David Barnea, who is accompanying Netanyahu to all his meetings in New York, hugged him and said: "I'm glad to see you." Before that, the head of the Mossad hugged Andriy Yermak, Zelensky's chief of staff. The Ukrainian delegation arrived dressed in military uniforms, and Zelensky initially remarked with humor that Netanyahu's delegation was large, and laughed: "We don't have a budget for that." Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, responded “Many people want to participate.”
In the shadow of Israel's refusal to provide Ukraine with defense systems and technologies to intercept Iranian drones, Zelensky was asked if he was satisfied with the Israeli assistance, and he muttered: "See you after the meeting after we talk about important issues." Zelensky was a few minutes late for the meeting, and Netanyahu was caught sitting down when the president arrived.
Netanyahu is the only Western leader in the world, apart from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has not made a trip to Kyiv. So far, the Prime Minister's Office has avoided the visit for security reasons, but the Ukrainians say that if US President Joe Biden managed to come, there is no reason why Netanyahu should not come. Israel's Foreign Ministry also strongly recommended to Netanyahu to hold this visit.
Barnea was invited by Netanyahu to accompany him to meetings at the United Nations to provide an intelligence review on the extensive Iranian aid to Russia's war efforts, particularly through UAVs, as well as on the Iranian nuclear program and the negotiations for the normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia.
Zelensky opened his speech at the UN General Assembly by saying that, while the world focused on the threat of nuclear weapons, Russia is "weaponizing" vital things like food and energy, "not only against our country - but also against all of you." According to Zelensky, Moscow is doing this so that the countries of the world agree to recognize the territories it conquered from Ukraine, or at least some of them.
He said that his country has information about tens of thousands of Ukrainian children who were kidnapped by Russia, transferred to its territory and "brainwashed" to hate Ukraine. "Time passes, what will happen to them?" he wondered out loud, saying that what is happening in his country is "clearly genocide." He said that "we must be united and defeat Russia so that the world can focus on global challenges instead."
Zelensky added that "evil cannot be trusted, ask Prigozhin," referring to the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was killed in a plane crash two months after a rebellion he tried to lead against the army chiefs in Russia. He talked about his "formula" for peace, which he says will bring an end to the war in Ukraine, and revealed that a world peace summit is planned to take place soon.
The president of Ukraine invited the world leaders at the UNGA to participate in the summit, since, according to him "this should be discussed with unity and openness, and not behind closed doors. We are working to make sure that after the war in Ukraine ends, no country dares to attack any other nation." He ended his speech by saying "Salva Ukrainian" ("Long live Ukraine").
Prior to his meeting with Zelensky, Netanyahu met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz and Paraguayan President Santiago Peña . The Prime Minister's Office reported that Netanyahu thanked Scholtz for his commitment to Israel and Germany's commitment to national security and the preservation of special relations. The two leaders discussed Iran's defiant actions in spreading global terrorism and striving for nuclear weapons, and the prime minister stressed to the chancellor that Tehran's announcement regarding the removal of some of the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from its nuclear facilities should not be accepted.
In addition, the two leaders discussed the tightening of security cooperation between the countries, headed by the agreement for the supply of the Arrow 3 air defense system that was recently concluded. This is in continuation of the strategic dialogue between Israel and Germany, which took place recently under the leadership of the national security advisors of the two countries.
The Paraguayan president informed the prime minister that he intends to return the Paraguayan embassy to Jerusalem by the end of the year. At the same time, Israel will reopen its embassy in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion. After the meeting with Zelensky, Netanyahu is expected to meet with Turkish President Erdogan at midnight.
At the same time as the meetings, hundreds of Israelis demonstrated in Times Square waving Israeli flags, singing, shouting and chanting "shame" and "democracy or rebellion." Next to the protesters stood a truck on which videos of Netanyahu speaking at the United Nations were shown, while his nose lengthened like Pinocchio. Shani Louboutin-Granot, one of the protest organizers in New York, said: "We came here to tell what is really happening in Israel, and the truth about the determined struggle for Israeli democracy , the struggle of the people of Israel that is not willing to give up and will not bow down to those who try to dismantle it from within."
Some of the protesters said they are afraid that "Israel will turn into Tehran, it's time to come." An Israeli woman passing by the demonstration attacked the protestors and asked: "Where is the money? The economy is booming, why are you shaming us?" Vice President of the Reform Movement Josh Weinberg, who is participating in the demonstration, said that he does not believe a word that Netanyahu says. "Liberals who are committed to democracy, freedom, equality and pluralism, we stand here together and say that if Israel is not a democracy - it cannot be Jewish either," he said. "We are here to protect human rights, political rights, women's and LGBT rights."
Itamar Eichner is the Ynet and "Yediot Ahronoth" correspondent in the prime minister's entourage to the US