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Supporting Two Wars is Not Easy. How Will the US Aid Both Israel and Ukraine?

America's objectives in the two conflicts are different.

5 min read
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Throughout last year, as Ukraine unexpectedly resisted a major Russian invasion and a war of attrition developed along its eastern and southern borders, the United States saw itself sitting pretty.

Its major antagonist, Russia had gotten stuck in a misadventure that would systematically sap its economic and military power.

And China, by aligning itself so closely to Moscow, had bought into the partnership at the wrong time.

Meanwhile, Europe and NATO which had been disillusioned with US leadership during the Trump years, once again lined up behind Washington and offered full support to Ukraine.

A year later, even as the war in Ukraine grinds on inconclusively, the US finds itself confronted with another war, but this one has brought little comfort to the US and instead, the war pitting US ally Israel against Hamas in Gaza could unlock a chain of events that could not only upend its primacy in the Middle-East, but damage its global standing as well.

As it is, the picture of the US condemning an invasion in Ukraine, but supporting one in Gaza, has already outraged public opinion in the Arab world.


What Do the Americans Want in Ukraine and Gaza? 

Speaking to the American people on Thursday after his return from Israel, President Biden directly linked the two wars together and called on Congress to help him defeat both threats. He has sought emergency funding of $106 billion of which $61 billion would be for Ukraine, $14.3 billion for Israel, and $14 billion for dealing with the US-Mexican border. Other sums are designated for miscellaneous purposes.

In the face of skepticism being expressed in American circles, especially the Republican Party, Biden said “Hamas and Putin represent different threats, But they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighbouring democracy.”

Biden is hoping that by linking these disparate issues he will be able to overcome the persistent Republican opposition to aid for Ukraine.

America's objectives in the two conflicts are different.

While in the case of Ukraine, it would want Kyiv to succeed in liberating areas occupied by Russia. In Gaza, it is not clear as to what it wants and is going along with the Israelis having not yet clarified their plans besides saying that they want to eliminate Hamas.

Actually, we are only part of the way into the crisis as yet. After the terrible Hamas terrorist attack, Israel has cut off water, electricity, and food supplies to Gaza and has been bombing the area round-the-clock. It has mobilised its army and is readying for a ground invasion which it says will initially focus on northern Gaza.

The ground invasion to destroy Hamas could virtually destroy Gaza and while it may secure Israel, it is likely to bring together the Arab world once again in support of Palestine. Worse, it could bring Hezbollah into the war and expand its regional scope.

This could disrupt if not terminate US efforts to stabilise the Middle East, degrading its ties with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE while persuading them to make peace with Israel.


The Key Question Concerns US Aid

Meanwhile, as it often happens in a war, the situation is being driven by events outside anyone’s control. The bombing of the Al Ahli hospital resulting in massive casualties has already undermined US efforts to control and direct the Israeli reaction.

President Biden announced $100 million aid for relief operations and also sought to open the Egyptian border to provide some relief to the beleaguered Palestinians, but the hospital bombing has led to a break between the US and the Arab countries.

But he, once again, categorically backed Israel’s right to act against the Palestinians in Gaza, and the US even vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for humanitarian pauses in the conflict to enable aid to reach the people of the Gaza strip. Biden is now tied to whatever the Israelis do in Gaza and what they plan to do continues to be unclear.

As for the war in Ukraine, it grinds on.

The Ukrainian offensive in the east has not progressed as much as Kyiv had expected. On the other hand, Russia seems to have geared up its wartime economy and replenished its supplies. The Russians have learnt their lessons well, and their prepared defences and changed tactics have slowed down Ukraine's thrust to almost a stand-still. Meanwhile, the Russians have launched their own counter-offensive in eastern Ukraine, but that, too, has not been faring too well.

The going is not likely to be easy.

As it is, the US House of Representatives does not have a Speaker to process Biden's request. Further, there are many Republicans who are wary about sending more aid to Ukraine, arguing that the US now needs to replenish its own stockpiles. Republicans have become increasingly divided over aid to Ukraine but even so, the US has so far provided $75 billion worth of military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Kyiv.


How Things Could Change for Ukraine

Like it or not, supporting two wars at the same time is not going to be easy, even for the Americans.

Earlier this month, Admiral Rob Bauer, who chairs NATO’s Military Committee told the Warsaw Security Forum that Western powers are running out of ammunition to give to Ukraine. His words were echoed by the UK Defence Minister James Heappey who said that the alliance was collectively not doing enough.

Ukraine has received substantial aid from Europe and the US, but it has not come in the quality and quantity that would be needed for its offensives to succeed.

There are also practical issues which will challenge the logistic effort.

While Israel and Ukraine do not have similar needs in their respective wars, there is some overlap. We already have reports that the Pentagon is planning to send Israel tens of thousands of 155mm shells that had been destined for Ukraine. While there may be no immediate problem for Ukraine, if the Gaza war becomes a regional conflict, things could change.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters in Brussels last week that the US could support both Israel and Ukraine together. But the reality is that the Middle East situation, which is yet to peak, could divert western attention and along with that, military and economic aid needed to fight Russia.

Western support for Ukraine has been strong but there are now cracks beginning to show. $6 billion in aid to Ukraine was slashed from the short-term US budget deal that prevented a shutdown of the government at the beginning of this month. Meanwhile, elections in Slovakia saw pro-Moscow Robert Fico’s Smar party win most seats. In neighbouring Poland too, doubts about funding Ukraine have surfaced.

And now, Ukraine has to anticipate the possibility of Donald Trump returning as President and curbing US support. Given Trump’s showing in the polls, this is not as remote a possibility as people assume. With his penchant for generating chaos, Trump could upset all calculations, whether in Ukraine or the Middle East.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Israel   Hamas   Palestine 

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