Defense & National Security — Israel holds fire on Ukraine support
Israel reiterated on Wednesday that it will not be sending weapons systems to Ukraine as Kyiv ramps up calls for help in strengthening its air defenses. However, Israel did offer to assist Ukraine in “developing a life-saving early-warning system.”
Today we’ll also dig into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of martial law in occupied regions of Ukraine and offer the latest on the implications of a GOP majority in Congress on U.S. support for Ukraine.
This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Laura Kelly and Colin Meyn.
Israel ‘will not provide weapon systems’ to Ukraine
Israel is rejecting desperate calls from Ukraine to supply advanced air defense systems to counter Russia’s use of Iranian, kamikaze drones, intent on maintaining strategic ties between Jerusalem and Moscow.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday that Israel “will not provide weapon systems” but said Jerusalem will continue to side with Western support for Kyiv.
“We have asked the Ukrainians to share information regarding their needs and offered to assist in developing a life-saving early-warning system,” he reportedly said in remarks to ambassadors from the European Union.
- Israel has sent humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, publicly condemned Russia’s invasion and is reportedly sharing intelligence with Kyiv.
- However, it has held back on strategic military aid to preserve its Moscow ties.
The Ukrainian Embassy in Israel, in a letter sent Tuesday, asked the Israeli government to enter into “mutual cooperation in the field of air/missile defense,” warning that Iran’s battlefield experience for its weapons systems is a direct threat to the Middle East.
The letter asks for Israel’s Iron Dome system, which last had a 97 percent success rate at intercepting nearly 600 missiles shot from the Gaza Strip over the course of a few days in August.
“We are a country at war ourselves, I don’t think we can afford emptying our warehouses,” said Uzi Rubin, founder and first director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization in the Israel Ministry of Defense and a fellow with the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.
While the U.S. Army has possession of two Iron Dome batteries, the administration has not sent any signals it’s looking to send those to Ukraine.
Becca Wasser, Senior Fellow for the Defense Program at the Center for New American Security, said one reason the U.S. may not send its own Iron Dome is that it only has two, and only one is operational in Guam.
“A few years ago the [House Armed Services Committee] was talking about the U.S. sending one of its Iron Dome batteries to Ukraine, long before the recent events took place with Russia’s invasion,” she said. “But at the end of the day…the United States does not have that many Iron Dome systems.”
Waltz: ‘Vast majority’ of GOP supports Ukraine aid
GOP Rep. Michael Waltz (Fla.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the majority of the Republican caucus supports U.S. assistance to Ukraine amid concerns that a GOP-controlled House following the November elections may push back on billions of dollars of military and economic aid provided to Kyiv.
“I think the vast majority of the conference realizes that we either pay now or pay later, that Russian President Vladimir Putin fully intends, if he takes Ukraine, to move on to NATO-allied countries like the Baltics, and Poland and Finland,” he told The Hill in a phone interview Tuesday.
Waltz’s comments follow remarks from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that House Republicans will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine if they take control of the lower chamber of Congress after the midterm elections.
Waltz, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and the first Green Beret elected to Congress, said GOP criticism of assistance to Ukraine stems from a failure by the Biden administration to answer calls for strict oversight.
“The issue is, and this is where members are raising concern, is we have no oversight of where this aid is going and exactly how it’s being used,” said Waltz, who stressed he supports oversight to follow the effectiveness of the assistance when pressed if he thinks the military and economic assistance is being misused.
“It’s not that it’s being misused, but this is all new equipment and new systems, how is the maintenance going? How is the logistics being handled? Are many of these systems breaking down? It’s about using it effectively. It’s a lot of money, a lot of support.”
The U.S. has provided an estimated $18.3 billion in military assistance to Ukraine and about $10 billion in economic and humanitarian assistance that is credited as key in helping push back Russian forces and keep Ukraine functioning amid eight months of war.
But Republicans are increasingly facing turmoil within their ranks between those who argue full-throated support for Ukraine — albeit with oversight — and a small, but provocative group that have their base in former President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement that promotes an isolationist foreign policy.
Putin escalates with martial law order
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the latest escalation of his war in Ukraine on Wednesday, declaring martial law in occupied areas of Ukraine and wartime measures throughout much of Russia.
“This is a big deal because in effect what Putin is doing is actually bringing all the Russian Federation into some level of martial law,” said Mark Galeotti, an honorary professor at the University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies.
While the martial law order mainly applies to the four occupied regions of Ukraine — Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — it also announced the “economic mobilization” of eight Russian regions on Ukraine’s border, including occupied Crimea.
And the final section says that “other measures may be applied in the Russian Federation during the period of martial law.”
What it means for Ukraine: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office was quick to minimize the significance of Putin’s order. However, local Ukrainian officials warned that Putin’s move could begin an even darker chapter in territories that Moscow illegally annexed earlier this month.
“A new manifestation of genocide in the occupied territories,” Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov wrote on Telegram. “The Ruscists are preparing the forcible deportation of an entire city. So far, it is between voluntary and forcible, supposedly aimed to protect people from hostilities.”
Eugene Finkel, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, who was born in Ukraine, said he didn’t expect the order would significantly change the situation on the ground.
“I don’t think that having a martial law in place was the only thing that prevented Russians from carrying out those things, it certainly will give them some veneer of domestic legitimacy — obviously zero external legitimacy,” he said.
What it means for Russia: While his martial law declaration was focused largely on Ukraine and border regions in Russia, Finkel said the final provision allowing for “other measures” could be a “backdoor to introduce martial law in other parts of Russia without actually calling it martial law.”
“And also a signal to the population that they’re doing something and something’s happening, because everybody knows that the war isn’t going as they planned,” he added.
Galeotti said this could have broad implications for Russian society, allowing officials to control industrial activity to help the war, further control the media or crush labor actions that conflict with wartime priorities.
“I think in terms of what this shows is a growing awareness that Russia is in this probably for the long haul,” said Galeotti, who wrote the book “Putin’s Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine.”
‘IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE WEAPONS’
Ukrainian soldiers, veterans and the non-governmental organizations who help them are in Washington this week to learn best practices in providing assistance to the military population amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The group is being led by Nataliia Kalmykova, the executive director of the Ukrainian Veterans Foundation, funded by the Ukrainian Ministry of Veterans Affairs. She spoke at the Atlantic Council on Wednesday, saying that their goal in the U.S. is to gain new ideas to help veterans and find additional funding “because we’ll not be able to cover all the needs with our local budget, because of limits of funds.”
The exact figures of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is classified, Kalmykova said, but they are expecting to treat about 10 percent of the population, or an estimated 5 million people.
Their work is not only for veterans, but families, urgently providing services for children who are traumatized while living under Russian rocket fire and who may have lost a parent amid the fighting.
“We know this is the most vulnerable category,” Kalmykova said. “They are under bombing, internally displaced, they lose at least one of the parents. It’s absolutely important and we cannot avoid this issue and we should start the work now.”
Among the needs for the population is medical care, Kalmykova continued, and looking ahead they are hoping to expand projects that provide veterans with microfinancing in entrepreneurship.
Funding and assistance from the U.S. and other partners countries with Ukraine is essential, she stressed.
“The war is not just about the weapons, it is also about the economy,” she said.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a conversation about “Relations with the two Koreas, the 20th National Congress of the CCP, and the recently released National Security Strategy by the U.S.” at 9:45 a.m.
- The German Marshall Fund of the United States is hosting the event “The Future of European Security Architecture – The Path to the NATO Summit in Vilnius” at 10 a.m.
- The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program will host “Public Outrage: A Look at Protest Movements in Iran and the Arab World” at 10 a.m.
- As part of its Future Security Forum 2022 Series, New America will host a discussion on “How Should the U.S. Respond to Disinformation?” at 12 p.m.
- The Atlantic Council hosts a conversation on “How the latest women-led protests in Iran might shape the country’s trajectory” at 12 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Brittney Griner thanks supporters as birthday passes in prison
- Pence pushes back: US must provide Ukraine with ‘resources to defend themselves’
- Russia: Annexed Ukrainian regions under nuclear protection
- Biden says Putin’s only tool now is to ‘brutalize’ after he declares martial law in Ukrainian regions
- Russia starts evacuations in occupied Kherson
- NYT: Russia Shrinks Forces in Syria, a Factor in Israeli Strategy There
- Reuters: U.S. targets Russian military procurement network in new sanctions
- WaPo: UAE hired retired U.S. brass, including Gen. Mattis, to guide military
That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!
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