IT’S a question that many have been asking. One that, not surprisingly, was put to UK foreign secretary David Cameron last week during an interview on the radio station LBC.

Asked why British forces couldn’t shoot down Russian ­unmanned drones just as they had done to ­support ­Israel, Cameron said it was an ­“interesting question”, before adding, rather ­obviously, that a Nato conflict with Russia would be a “dangerous escalation”, and it was vital to prevent a “wider European war”.

There is of course one school of thought that asserts that Nato is already engaged in “all-out” war with Russia, even if such a premise tends to be a matter of opinion rather than an entirely accurate ­operational assessment. 

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But sticking for now to the claims of double standards over support for Israel and Ukraine, there’s no doubt – as might be expected – that Kyiv has very clear views on the issue. 

As far as Ukraine’s argument goes, these are the same drones and almost the same missiles being deployed against both countries, but Israel’s robust air ­defences and the crucial help it got from a powerful coalition of allies – including the US and UK – massively surpass anything Kyiv can expect.

“How does the civilian population of Ukraine or the civilian ­infrastructure of Ukraine differ from the civilian ­population of Israel from a humanistic point of view?” asked Ukrainian ­presidential a­dviser Mykhailo Podolyak bluntly, in an interview with American broadcaster NBC News last week.

Podolyak’s remarks were simply ­underlining what Ukraine’s president ­Volodymyr Zelenskyy (below) had already spelt out in the wake of allied support on the night of Iran’s attack on Israel.

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“The whole world sees what real ­defence is. It sees that it is feasible. And the whole world saw that Israel was not alone in this defence – the threat in the sky was also being eliminated by its allies,” Zelenskyy stressed in his nightly address.

The Ukrainian leader is acutely aware of the need to choose his words carefully, having previously been accused by some of seeming ingratitude for the enormous military and financial support already supplied by Ukraine’s Western allies. 

Some say the tone of Zelensky’s ­messaging of late has changed ­noticeably, and where once there was dogged ­optimism, the president’s remarks are now peppered with dire warnings about his country’s fate, through which a ­certain bitterness at the lack of allied ­support is also detectable. 

No doubt the Ukrainian leader is well aware that polls point to ­pessimism about the outcome of the war rising among his country’s population.

In ­December, ­research carried out by the Kyiv ­International Institute of ­Sociology ­indicated that nearly one-fifth of ­respondents thought Ukraine would be a “country with a destroyed economy and a large outflow of people” in 10 years, up from just 5% in October 2022.

But despite such pressures, ­Zelenskyy is also supremely conscious of the ­sensitivity of the moment and especially keen to allay the idea that Washington has a choice between supporting Israel or supporting Ukraine.

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“Shaheds (drones) in the skies above Ukraine sound identical to those over the Middle East,” he said.

“The ­impact of ­ballistic missiles – if they are not ­intercepted – is the same ­everywhere. ­Terror must be defeated ­completely and everywhere – not more in some places and less in others,” he ­observed last week, choosing to suggest the need for a unity of response rather than highlight perceived differences.

The Ukrainian leader’s words come at an especially perilous moment for Ukraine as it struggles to defend ­itself against ­escalating Russian ­airstrikes which many analysts believe is a ­precursor to a ­summer ground offensive by Kremlin forces on frontlines that have looked ­increasingly vulnerable these past months. 

Russia controls about 18% of Ukraine, and Western leaders and intelligence chiefs say the war is at a crossroads which could lead to victory for Russia and ­humiliation for the West unless Ukraine urgently gets more support.

Zelenskyy’s remarks too come as the US House of Representatives this ­weekend votes on a $95 billion aid ­package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, $60bn of which is ­earmarked for Kyiv to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities.

The vote marks a dramatic conclusion to months of US congressional wrangling after Democrats backed the plan put ­forward by the House Republican speaker Mike Johnson. 

If the House passes the bill as ­expected, it will head to the Senate, where it is also likely to pass before being sent to ­President Joe Biden to be signed into law. But Johnson’s legislation – especially the additional funding for Ukraine – remains controversial among many of his fellow Republicans.

Knowing this, Ukraine remains ­anxious, awaiting confirmation that the massive US package that includes air ­defence systems and ammunition would be immediately forthcoming.

As the war grinds into its third year, Ukrainians are wary of getting their hopes up about the arrival of the ­desperately needed US-funded weapons and ­munitions.

Seen from Kyiv’s perspective, it’s hard to overstate the urgency with which the Zelenskyy government needs these ­improved air defences right now. This, it says, is born out by recent data on the scale and intensity of Russian attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure and civilian population.

Last month, Russia attacked Ukraine with more than 400 missiles, 600 ­Iranian-made drones and 3000 guided aerial bombs according to open source ­intelligence analysis. These strikes, say the Ukrainians, are likely to rise ­considerably when Russia’s anticipated summer offensive begins. 

It’s the lack of air defences especially that are hurting Ukraine, leaving the country exposed to Russian aircraft which for the first time in this war have started dropping thousands of bombs.

Russian missiles and drones have pounded homes, cities and energy ­infrastructure for weeks, with rolling electricity blackouts common as the Kremlin exploits Ukraine’s desperate shortage of air defence systems. 

On the ground, meanwhile, ­Ukrainian soldiers are digging in ahead of an ­anticipated ground attack on Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city and ­Moscow’s forces are also closing in on Chasiv Yar, a strategically important town 10 miles or so from Bakhmut.

Kyiv’s concerns stand in sharp ­contrast to the near palpable sigh of relief this weekend across the Middle East and among Israel’s allies as the latest missile and drone exchanges between Israel and Iran appear to have subsided for now.

While much of what has unfolded in the dangerous exchanges between Israel and Iran has been shrouded in the fog of war with both sides embracing ambiguity and deniability as part of their strategy, some details have unfolded. 

In the latest strike by Israel – though it has not confirmed such action – ­pictures studied by military analysts suggest that Israel may have used air-launched ­Sparrow ballistic missiles to demonstrate to Tehran that it can successfully attack targets inside the country at range.  “Israel has informed its partners that the primary attack vectors were ­airborne, with no entry into (Iranian) airspace,” one Israeli official is cited by the ­Financial Times (FT) as saying, indicating that the country’s armed forces used a stand-off missile attack launched far from Iran’s borders. 

It’s thought that Israeli warplanes flew through Syrian airspace, a report given more credence by Syria’s Sana state news agency which said that Israeli missiles had targeted the country’s air defence ­systems in advance of hitting Iran. 

This, say analysts, could explain how the Israelis created a “safe” corridor through which their aircraft could fly using ­inflight refuelling, before launching their strikes on targets inside Iran at Isfahan and Tabriz from outside its airspace.  

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It would seem that both Israel and Iran over the past days have sought to “­re-establish deterrence without ­escalation”. Or, as Amos Yadlin, ­former head of Israel’s military intelligence ­service described the equation, “Isfahan for Nevatim”, a reference to the ­southern Israeli air base targeted by Iran last ­weekend.

For now, both Israel and Iran seem satisfied with drawing a line under the recent exchanges, with Israeli Prime ­Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly having ­responded to pressure from ­international allies to show a calibrated, “restrained’ response.

This though is unlikely to have pleased those Israeli ultranationalists within his coalition government who sought to teach Tehran a lesson just as they hope to do with its proxy Hamas in Gaza. 

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right ­national-security minister, made such a view clear using a single world post in Hebrew slang on social media – dardale – which means weak, poor or ­disappointing.

The National: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

Such goading is meant to pressure ­Netanyahu (above) not only to take more ­forceful action against Iran in future, but ­perhaps to escalate operations in Gaza with the city of Rafah in the Israeli military’s crosshairs. 

So far, an attack on Rafah has been delayed by international pressure, but in exchange for Netanyahu’s caution over striking Iran, Rafah might well be a target on which the Israeli government is unwilling to compromise, again raising questions as to what the response of the US and Israel’s other allies might be.

But if one thing remains obvious, it’s that Israel’s allies for now in the shape of the US, UK and France, continue to make clear the distinction between their responses in support of Israel and that of Ukraine.

Last week US National Security ­Council spokesperson John Kirby, ­underlined the different approaches that have been adopted militarily by ­Washington to ­Israel and Ukraine.

“Different conflicts, different airspace, different threat picture,” Kirby said, his remarks only adding to the frustration of Ukrainian leaders. 

Speaking last week as accusations of double standards and hypocrisy against ­Israel’s allies mounted, Dr Frank ­Ledwidge, a former British ­military ­intelligence officer and senior ­lecturer in war studies at the University of ­Portsmouth summed up the ­prevailing thinking in many Western corridors of power.

The “US and Nato have been adamant that they will not get into conflict with Russia,” explained Ledwidge. “Nobody wants to get involved fighting Russia.”  Certainly, UK Foreign Secretary ­David Cameron has made Britain’s own ­position clear.

“If you want to avoid an escalation in terms of a wider European war, I think the one thing you do need to avoid is Nato troops directly engaging Russian troops,” insisted Cameron in his LBC interview.

But not everyone agrees, including some European diplomats who feel Ukraine’s concern over double standards more keenly.  “During Iran’s attack against Israel, some Western countries contributed to protecting Israeli skies as an important act of solidarity,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told ­Politico magazine last week.

“Kyiv keeps requesting the same type of protection from the same group of ­countries for more than two years now. I am sure that Ukraine will raise an ­argument that if one non-Nato country had been provided with air defence when ­attacked by a hostile adversary, why should Ukraine be treated differently? Given the dire and urgent situation that Ukraine now faces, that argument is ­rather convincing,” Landsbergis concluded.

It’s a view echoed by others who share the central and eastern neighbourhood with Russia and are conscious of their own nations’ vulnerability from times past.

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“The Ayatollah’s overnight attack on ­Israel was successfully repelled thanks to a swift international response and a willingness to defend airspace,” wrote Czech European Affairs Minister Martin Dvořák on Twitter/X.

“It is a pity that we do not defend the airspace over Ukraine with the same ­vigour,” Dvořák added.

This weekend, Ukraine might well breathe a slight sigh of relief at the news that a substantial US military aid ­package is about to head its way. In ­Israel, ­meanwhile, people there too will feel more reassured after what seems to be the drawing of a line under recent hostilities with Iran even if the situation remains volatile and the situation for Palestinians in Gaza desperate.

Indeed perhaps those ultimately most likely to bear the brunt of Israel’s military exchanges and exacerbated tensions with Iran will be Gazans themselves.

Meantime, few doubt that the debate over double standards and hypocrisy over the West’s stance in support of Israel and Ukraine will disappear any time soon.  This has led some – including one senior unnamed European official cited by the FT last week – to raise that other question many security analysts and diplomats are now pondering.

“Our public line is all about Israel’s right to defend itself … but internally, there is a growing tension about support for Israel versus Ukraine,” the official warned.

“The Middle East is going to be ­volatile forever. But if Ukraine loses to ­Russia, that would be a step change for ­Europe and Nato. Where do our strategic ­priorities really lie?”