The Difficulties of Ukrainian Policy towards the War in the Gaza Strip

By Oleksandr Bulin

1 MB

Key Takeaways

  • Unforeseen Diplomatic Consequences: Ukraine’s support for Israel had unexpected repercussions on its relationships with Arab nations and its standing in the Global South. This diplomatic stance strained Ukraine’s previously balanced relations in the Middle East and challenged its geopolitical strategies.
  • Failure to Alter Israel’s Neutrality in the Russo-Ukrainian War: Despite Ukraine’s efforts, the strategy to strengthen ties with Israel and sway its neutral stance on the Russo-Ukrainian war was unsuccessful. Israel’s strategic relationship with Russia remained a priority, highlighting the complex nature of international relations.
  • Deterioration of Relations with Key Arab States: Ukraine’s one-sided support for Israel led to a cooling of relations with important Arab partners, including Qatar, a key mediator in the Russo-Ukrainian war and a significant partner for Ukraine in the Middle East.
  • Reassessment of Ukraine’s Stance: Ukraine needs to reassess its foreign policy, particularly in maintaining a balanced approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This would involve recognizing the significance of this issue for the Arab world and the Global South.

The Hamas terrorist attack and subsequent war in the Gaza Strip led to unprecedented levels of support for Israel around the world. Ukraine was among the states that actively supported Israel at the beginning of the escalation. However, further developments showed that this policy was a failure and only harmed Ukrainian interests.

Ukrainian View on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Since the declaration of independence of Ukraine, close ties have developed between the states at the cultural level. In the 1990s, during the Great Aliyah from the post-Soviet space, many Jews moved from Ukraine to Israel. Now, more than 500 thousand persons from Ukraine live in Israel, and among them, approximately 35 thousand are members of mixed families and considered ethnic Ukrainians.

After the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, a narrative has become popular about the similarities between Ukraine and Israel as “besieged fortresses” fighting against a larger enemy. Israel has become a model of a country for which a permanent threat of war does not interfere with providing reforms and development. For example, in 2019, during his inauguration speech, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi said that Ukrainians “must become the Israelis in the defense of their native land.”

Such relative ties, coupled with the concept of the powerful, highly developed state that is able to defend against a larger enemy, became an excellent example for many in Ukraine.

With generally expressed support for Israel, Ukraine officially adheres to the position of “two states for two peoples” and has diplomatic relations with the Palestinian National Authority. Even after the start of the current war in the Gaza Strip, Ukraine continued to adhere to this position. So, on November 12, 2023, Ukraine supported a UN resolution recognizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. In December, President Zelenskyi stated: “Ukraine recognizes both the independent people of Israel and the independent people of Palestine.”

This policy can be explained by Ukraine’s desire not to spoil relations with Arab states and other countries of the Global South (for which the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has become an important point of self-determination). In addition, Ukraine does not support Israeli expansion and occupation since it is itself a victim of expansion by Russia.

Ukrainian Support for Israel after the Hamas-led Attack

After the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7, Ukraine provided support to Israel. According to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) public opinion survey, 69% of Ukrainians sympathized with Israel, while only 1% sympathized with Palestine. 18% said they sympathized with both sides, and 12% found it difficult to answer.

An Israeli national flag is seen on a screen at a shopping mall to support Israel in Kyiv on October 8

The actions of Hamas terrorists, who killed about 700 civilians and took hundreds more hostage, have been compared to the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine. Thus, President Zelenskyi, in his address to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Copenhagen on October 9, drew a parallel between the Hamas attack and Bucha, a city in the Kyiv oblast that has become a world-famous symbol of the brutality of the Russian army against civilians. On October 11 in Brussels, Zelenskyi called on the leaders of all countries to visit Israel. At the same time, information appeared about his upcoming visit to Israel.

The Ukrainian government has taken an active position in expressing support for Israel for several reasons.

Firstly, because of the previously mentioned popular narrative about Ukraine’s similarities to Israel. Following the Hamas attack, Ukrainian authorities continued to adopt it, comparing the actions of Hamas to Russia’s and claiming that Israel and Ukraine are fighting together against terrorism.

Secondly, Ukraine was trying to improve relations with Israel in the context of countering Russian aggression. Israel takes a position of relative neutrality regarding the war in Ukraine. Israel has not imposed any sanctions on Russia since 2014 and has not supplied Ukraine with any lethal weapons, which Ukraine has repeatedly requested.

Thirdly, Ukraine was hoping to use the unprecedented level of support for Israel among Western countries to attract attention to its war. Recent months have been characterized by a decrease in global attention to the Russo-Ukrainian war and a decrease in Western assistance to Ukraine. In addition, the war in the Gaza Strip has replaced the war in Ukraine as the most pressing conflict. Therefore, by combining the wars of Ukraine and Israel under the auspices of the fight against the axis of evil of Russia and Iran and the struggle of civilization against barbarism, the Ukrainian authorities are trying to attract to their side part of the support provided to Israel after the Hamas attack.

Nevertheless, these actions did not lead to the desired result.

Failure to Strengthen Ukrainian-Israeli Relations

Ukraine’s efforts to encourage Israel to change its neutral position in favor of Ukraine have failed. Despite the support expressed by the Ukrainian leadership and statements that Ukraine aims to establish itself as an ally of Israel, relations with Russia remain strategically important for Israel.

At first glance, Russia has taken an anti-Israeli position: it actively cooperates with Iran, holds negotiations with Hamas leaders in Moscow, condemns Western countries’ attacks on the Yemeni Houthis, despite their shelling of Israel and attacks on civilian ships, etc.

Moussa Abu Marzouk seen meeting with
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in 2017

At the same time, Russian-Israeli relations continue to remain at a high level. Putin has spoken on the phone with Netanyahu twice since October 7 (for example, Zelenskyi made only one call).

Russia is one of the main players in the region. It is an ally of Israel’s principal adversaries, Iran and Syria. Therefore, relations with Russia are strategically important to Israel.

There is a generally accepted opinion about the so-called Russian-Israeli consensus on Syria. Israel and Russia maintain close relations, and the latter, whose military forces are located in Syria, does not prevent Israeli strikes against the armed forces of Bashar al-Assad and Iranian proxy groups.

Despite the increased collaboration between Russia and Iran in the military, demonstrated by the acquisition of Russian military planes and helicopters, Israel aims to hinder further rapprochement between Moscow and Tehran. This is particularly evident in Israel’s efforts to prevent Russia from openly supporting Iran in such events as a potential Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Despite the hopes of the Ukrainians, it is unlikely that Israeli policy will change in favor of sending lethal weapons or air defense systems to Ukraine. Netanyahu has previously stated that one of the reasons for this policy is the fear that Israeli weapons will be seized by Russia and passed on to Iran and Syria. Given that Russia’s transfer of captured infantry weapons has been confirmed by Ukrainian intelligence, it is unlikely that Israel will take the risk of its weapons ending up in the hands of their enemies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi
(left) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the
UN General Assembly in New York on
September 19

Despite President Zelenskyi’s desire to visit Israel and multiple reports about the upcoming visit, it never took place. At the same time, a number of Western leaders: Biden, Sunak, Macron, Scholz, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Fiala, Chancellor of Austria Nemacher, and heads of European institutions – made visits to Israel. In December, Zelenskyi said he wanted to pay a visit, but apparently, his Israeli colleagues had other priorities. This demonstrates that Israel does not prioritize developing relations with Ukraine.

Although there have been some positive developments (for example, for the first time in January 2024, an Israeli representative attended a meeting on the Ukrainian “peace formula” in Davos), it can be argued that Ukraine’s desire to strengthen relations with Israel by appealing to countering terrorism from the Russian-Israeli alliance has failed.

Despite the deterioration in Russian-Israeli relations, which have reached their lowest point in recent years, they remain strong, and a significant change in Israeli policy regarding the war in Ukraine is unlikely.

Freeze in the Ukrainian-Arab Relations

After the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, the Arab states, for the most part, tried to take a neutral position and cooperate with both Ukraine and Russia. Arab states continue officially supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine, with only the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad recognizing the annexation of Ukrainian territories. At the same time, despite calls from Ukraine, members of the OPEC+ oil cartel decreased oil production multiple times, thereby raising its price and helping to strengthen the Russian economy. As for Egypt, the media reported on a possible sale of shells to Russia.

Following the period of neutrality, the year 2023 began with a positive breakthrough in Ukrainian-Arab relations. In February 2023, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia visited Ukraine and announced the supply of aid to Ukraine worth $400 million ($300 million in oil products and $100 million in humanitarian aid). The United Arab Emirates also increased its humanitarian assistance.

In May, President Zelenskyi spoke as a guest at the Arab League summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Moreover, on August 5-6, the second meeting regarding Zelenskyi’s “peace formula” took place there.

However, after October 7 and the one-sided statements of President Zelenskyi and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine about “supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and its people,” relations between Ukraine and the Arab governments cooled. An example of this was the absence of representatives of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain at the third meeting on the “peace formula” on October 28-29 in Malta.

Separately, the relations between Ukraine and Qatar are worth noting. Qatar is Ukraine’s most important partner in the Middle East. It plays an important mediating role in the Russo-Ukrainian war, helping Ukraine return prisoners of war and children deported illegally by Russia. Qatar, the world’s second-largest producer of liquefied gas behind the United States, is gradually increasing output in order to replace Russia as Europe’s gas supply source. In this case, Ukrainian and Qatari interests coincide.

Qatar has brokered a deal to reunite four Ukrainian children with their families after they were separated from their parents in Russia during full-scale invasion of the country. Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP/Getty Images

At the same time, Qatar is the second most important (after Iran) partner state of Hamas. It is also an important mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Qatari foreign policy in the Middle East is characterized by its support of Islamist militant organizations while simultaneously being a mediator in conflicts.

Thus, a continuation of such one-sided support by Ukraine for Israel could undermine cooperation with Doha, which is strategically important for Kyiv.

Ukraine subsequently had to adjust its position and place greater emphasis on the necessity for both sides to comply with the rules of war and international law, and also that Ukraine recognizes both the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Although it appears that the freeze in Arab-Ukrainian relations has passed and active cooperation continues into 2024, Ukraine’s failure to provide a balanced policy in time could lead to new crises in the future.

The Fate of Ukraine-Israel Common Agenda

The Hamas attack and subsequent war displaced the war in Ukraine as a major geopolitical event. This threatened the possible redirection of Western aid from Ukraine to Israel. Therefore, the Ukrainian authorities tried to combine the wars in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip into a single narrative of the fight against the Russo-Iranian axis of evil. However, such coverage did not help increase aid to Ukraine.

The last months of 2023 were characterized by a decrease in assistance from Western partners to the lowest levels since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. At the same time, it was revealed that the shells, which were supposed to be transferred to Ukraine, were instead delivered to Israel.

Ukraine has made some progress in the United States, where the Biden administration has introduced additional spending on aid to Ukraine, Israel, the countries of the Indo-Pacific region, and the protection of the southern border of the United States.

This package has not yet been accepted for various reasons. Among other things, it became evident that Republicans are more likely to vote for aid to Israel than to Ukraine. For example, House Speaker Mike Johnson on October 30 unveiled a separate aid plan for Israel that does not include Ukraine. The White House announced that President Biden would veto the bill if it passed.

This situation demonstrates that if the Republicans win the autumn presidential and congressional elections, the United States would rather focus on supporting Israel than Ukraine. The reasons for this are the strong pro-Israeli lobby in the States, especially strong in the Republican Party, as well as “fatigue” from the war in Ukraine, which in recent months has become increasingly positional.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed by
Saudi dignitaries upon his arrival in Jeddah for the
32nd Arab League summit being hosted by the
Kingdom. (SPA)

Having failed to achieve significant results in the media agenda in the West, Ukraine damaged its position in the countries of the so-called Global South. After the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian inability to win over the Global South became apparent. Since the Palestinian issue has become one of the critical factors in the self-determination of countries in this part of the world, support for Israel from Ukraine and Ukrainian Western partners makes Ukrainian positions in the Global South even weaker.

A narrative has emerged that the West is being hypocritical by paying attention to the suffering of Ukrainian civilians while turning a blind eye to the same suffering of Palestinians. Russian propaganda is actively using the war in Gaza and the support of Israel by Western countries for its own purposes. Israel in the Global South is perceived primarily as an occupier. Therefore, Ukraine’s efforts to identify itself with Israel have definitely damaged its position in the region.

It can be claimed that Ukrainian attempts to create a single international narrative around Ukraine and Israel have not achieved significant results in Western countries and have damaged Ukraine’s relations with countries of the Global South.


After the beginning of a new turn of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Ukraine supported Israel, pursuing a number of its goals. This policy as a whole can be called unsuccessful: it did not bring the desired result, paused strategically important relations with Arab states and gave a chance for Russian propaganda. Therefore, lately, Kyiv had to adjust its position in a more moderate direction.

Later on, Ukrainian politicians and diplomats should pay more attention to Israel’s strategically important relationship with Russia, as well as the significance of the Palestinian issue for the Arab world and the entire Global South.

Only by building a balanced policy regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict Ukrainian foreign policy can achieve positive results.

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