The United States has responded rapidly to the deadly Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. Initially, President Joe Biden released a written statement on that same day. Three days later he gave an emotional televised speech in which he underlined America’s intention to send weapons to Israel.
These statements led to immediate concerns that US military assistance to Israel might impact Washington’s ability to provide the weapons currently promised to the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). White House officials insisted at the time that they could do both.
Speaking on CBS’s 60-minute TV program on Oct. 15, Biden vowed that the US would continue to supply Israel and Ukraine with all the weaponry they need, as well as providing for other contingencies, such as Taiwan.
The President said: “We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history – not in the world, in the history of the world… We can take care of both of these [wars] and still maintain our overall international defense.”
Unlike Ukraine, Israel’s defense industry produces its own advanced weaponry and has not suffered from an attack by an external aggressor. Nearly all of what it can’t make itself comes from the US. While Ukraine also relies heavily on US support, it currently receives weapons and ammunition from European and other nations as well.
Three weeks after the Hamas attack, it is clear that there is little overlap between the weapons aid being offered to the two countries by the US, with the possible exception of 155mm artillery and 120mm tank ammunition.
There is little similarity between the combat strategy needs of the two, unless Israel’s war expands beyond Gaza and takes on a more conventional nature against Lebanon or Syrian-based militias. Israel’s immediate needs are for ground and air-delivered precision munitions to engage targets in the densely populated Gaza Strip and air defenses to guard against continuing rockets attacks from Hamas.
While the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has an increased need for unguided artillery ammunition, it is likely to be on a much smaller scale than that needed by Ukraine as it is not likely to engage in mass bombardment of urban areas. Any campaign against Hamas will be of much shorter duration than the war against Russia, where Ukraine has had to and will continue to need to fire an average of 7,000 rounds a day for months on end.
To date the US and other partners have supplied Ukraine with around 2 million rounds of 155mm ammunition which has stretched existing stockpiles and production capacity. Although this is being addressed both in the US and elsewhere, if the war in Israel were to extend beyond the fight against Gaza, then the IDF’s need for unguided artillery ammunition could threaten Ukraine’s supplies from Washington.
Israel has around 2,000 Merkava tanks which use 120mm US tank ammunition, whereas Ukraine has only around 40 Abrams tanks supplied by Washington and has received sufficient ammunition for its immediate needs.
The US Department of Defense in its Sept. 21 list of military aid provided to Ukraine showed around 100 items of only about a dozen are known to be in short supply. Of these, items such as launchers and rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Javelin anti-tank guided weapons, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and artillery cannon are not relevant to Israel’s immediate needs.
The Financial Times, in an Oct. 17 article, produced data showing where there was (and wasn’t) overlap between US ammunition availability against the needs of the IDF and AFU which confirms the small overlap in the requirements between the two.
Last Tuesday, the US Defense Department press secretary, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, said: “We are confident that we can meet both Israel’s needs and Ukraine’s needs going forward, and at the same time, ensure that our military readiness stays at the threshold that it needs to. We will not sacrifice our own military readiness when it comes to defending the nation.”
Ryder also said that US officials were “working closely with industry not only in the United States, but working with our allies and partners and their defense industrial base to look at ramping up production of 155mm shells.”
Another indirect threat that has appeared is linked to the pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli protests that have been occurring in Western countries. The Instro Precision factory, a subsidiary of Israeli drone manufacturer Elbit systems, which produces military equipment for the IDF, was blockaded by about 150 protestors for 6 hours, preventing movement in and out of the factory.
Separately, a similar protest along with a “rooftop occupation” disrupted deliveries at the Leicester-based UAV Tactical Systems and Howmet Fastening Systems.
While both companies do supply material to Israel, they also supply items such as weapon sights and optical instruments for use in drones supplied to Ukraine. The fear is that these protests could spread to more significant suppliers such as BAE Systems – which has extensive business in Israel, including the provision of parts for F-35 fighter aircraft, but is also a major supplier of weapons, ammunition and other material to Ukraine.
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