HomeWorldWill US military assistance to Israel impact Biden's support for Ukraine?

Will US military assistance to Israel impact Biden’s support for Ukraine?

Can US Military Aid to Israel Jeopardize Biden’s Help to Ukraine?

US President Joe Biden has pledged to strengthen military support for Israel in the wake of an unprecedented attack by Hamas militants, which has resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 Israelis and triggered a forceful response against the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.

This commitment raises concerns about whether Washington can increase defense aid to Israel without compromising assistance for Ukraine, especially given the recent ousting of House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy by Republican lawmakers and the absence of a replacement.

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Officials from the Biden administration assert that it is indeed possible to fulfill both obligations, although they acknowledge that challenges lie ahead.

Why is the absence of a House Speaker significant?

The US Congress holds authority over spending, so Biden must persuade both the Senate and the House to pass legislation authorizing additional funding. Typically, spending bills originate in the House, where the Speaker, the elected leader of the majority party, determines which legislation is put to a vote.

With Republicans holding a narrow 221-212 majority in the House, it only took a few members to oust McCarthy last week, marking the first time in US history that such an event occurred.

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Given the unprecedented nature of McCarthy’s removal, it remains uncertain whether Representative Patrick McHenry, currently serving as temporary speaker, possesses the legal authority to call a vote on any aid legislation.

Complicating matters further, many of the hard-right members responsible for McCarthy’s ousting are opposed to providing aid to Ukraine. Among them is Representative Jim Jordan, a frontrunner in the Speaker’s race. Last month, House Republicans refused to include aid for Ukraine in a last-minute spending bill aimed at averting a government shutdown.

Support for Israel, however, enjoys stronger backing, as Republicans are closely aligned with conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Biden administration is contemplating linking a request for assistance to Ukraine with increased funding for Israel.

How do Israel and Ukraine’s needs intersect?

Israel has long been a major recipient of US military assistance, receiving a consistent flow of aid. In 2016, the two countries agreed to a 10-year deal providing $38 billion in annual grants for military equipment purchases, as well as a $5 billion missile defense appropriation.

In the current phase of the conflict, Israel primarily requires small arms for its infantry and air defense interceptors to safeguard civilian infrastructure and military command centers.

It is unlikely that Israel has depleted its supply of small arms ammunition so early in the conflict.

Regarding missile defense, Israel employs the Iron Dome system, developed with US support to provide air defenses. The interceptor used by Iron Dome differs from the one utilized by the US-made Patriot system and other missile defense units deployed in Ukraine.

Ukraine, on the other hand, urgently requires ammunition, missile defense systems, and ground vehicles as it strives to reclaim territory captured by Russian invaders in February 2022.

Since the invasion began, the United States has provided $44 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, with Congress approving multiple tranches of aid, the most recent of which was sanctioned in December 2022.

Both Israel and Ukraine, as well as other recipients of weapons aid like Taiwan, would benefit from congressional approval of funding to enhance the permanent manufacturing capacity of US defense contractors. This would alleviate concerns about depleting US stocks of weapons through overseas shipments, which could potentially jeopardize national security.

What happens next?

Biden announced on Tuesday that his administration had already commenced the delivery of additional military assistance to Israel, including interceptors to replenish the Iron Dome. He further stated that upon Congress’s return, the administration would urge lawmakers to take “urgent action to address the national security requirements of our critical partners.”

Several avenues exist for transforming additional aid for Ukraine, as well as Israel, into law.

Congress could consider a standalone spending bill that combines the two, similar to a spending request Biden proposed in August that encompassed Ukraine, disaster relief, and border security funding.

Alternatively, funding for both countries could be encompassed within a larger spending bill, which Congress must pass later this year to prevent a government shutdown when the current stopgap spending measure expires next month.

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