Ukraine vs Israel: Can the West Arm Both?

by William Van Wagenen, published on The Cradle, October 11, 2023

Just three days after the Hamas-led Palestinian resistance launched an unprecedented military offensive against Israeli military posts and settlements by land, sea, and air, Israeli officials began begging their US sponsors for additional weapons.

Politico reported on 10 October that according to a senior Pentagon official, “The Biden administration is surging weapons to Israel, rapidly sending air defenses and munitions in response to Israeli officials’ urgent requests for aid.”

Planes have already taken off,” the senior official told reporters.

Amidst this escalating crisis for the occupation state, it’s worth pondering a crucial question: Can the US sustain a commitment to two significant existential conflicts involving vital allies in separate geographies simultaneously?

The answer is likely no. Washington has already devoted over $100 billion in military aid to Ukraine to fight Russia, while facing a national debt spiraling out of control and spiking inflation.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Ukraine war was meant to be easier; the isolation and economic unraveling of its Russian adversary, was a cinch. Instead, 18 months on, the US is struggling to support Ukraine in a bloody war of attrition. Worse yet, Kiev’s well-publicized spring offensive that was meant to flip those odds has come to naught in the face of Russia’s overwhelming advantage in artillery and advanced missiles.

Little territory has changed hands since Russian forces withdrew from Kharkiv and Kherson in late 2022, but the Ukrainian army has since been decimated by Russian artillery in theatres such as Bakhmut.

“We think that Ukrainians have lost somewhere between 300 to 350 thousand dead, maybe more, hundreds of thousands of wounded,” retired US Colonel Douglas Macgregor bluntly stated in August. “These attacks have utterly bled Ukraine white.”

This grim reality has given rise to what the BBC has described as “Ukraine’s army of amputees.” In the first half of this year alone, some 15,000 soldiers joined their ranks, surpassing the total amputees the UK produced over six years during World War II.

While Ukraine faces a severe manpower shortage, western powers find themselves faced with a dearth of available weaponry to send to Kiev. Admiral Rob Bauer, NATO’s highest-ranking military official, candidly admitted on 3 October, “The bottom of the barrel is now visible” concerning the west’s ammunition stockpile.

In a sign of the mounting strain, the US began transferring to Ukraine 300,000 155-millimeter shells it had stored in Israel as part of the War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel (WRSAI) program.

According to one Israeli officer, “Officially, all of this equipment belongs to the US military …. If, however, there is a conflict, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] can ask for permission to use some of the equipment.”

Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder claimed the US would replenish these stocks of artillery shells stored in Israel. But the US does not have the ability to do so, as Ukraine has been using between 3,000 and 6,000 rounds per day, a quarter of what Russia has used on the battlefield.

CNN reported at the time that “The strain on weapons stockpiles – and the ability of the US industrial base to keep up with demand – is one of the key challenges facing the Biden administration.”

Israel’s plea for US weapons

The US military-industrial complex is heavily geared to produce high-cost weapons systems and hardware, like the $412 billion F-35 warplane. While these programs undoubtedly benefit weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, they fall short in delivering the essential artillery required in vast quantities for a war of attrition against a formidable military.

Now that war has broken out between Israel and the Palestinian resistance, Kiev faces a competitor not only in Moscow, but in Tel Aviv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on 9 October expressed the fear that US and European support would shift away from Ukraine and toward Israel, and claimed on the social media platform X:

“We have data very clearly proving that Russia is interested in inciting war in the Middle East so that a new source of pain and suffering would erode global unity and exacerbate cleavages and controversies, helping Russia in destroying freedom in Europe.”

While the Ukraine lobby enjoys clout in Washington, the Israel lobby reigns supreme. It is unlikely the former will be able to override the efforts of the latter to redirect what few US weapons remain available away from the defense of the Jewish state.

That Israel is begging for US weapons just days into a conflict with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is alarming for the occupation state’s supporters, considering that none of the remaining Axis of Resistance members, including Hezbollah, Syria, Ansarallah, Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and Iran, have yet formally entered the conflict.

Should Hezbollah fully join the fight, Israeli planners expect the Lebanese resistance movement to fire 4,000 missiles a day from northern Lebanon and send thousands of elite troops into Israel to take over towns or military bases.

Lessons from the 2006 war with Hezbollah 

Israel and Hezbollah fought a major battle in 2006, which forced the Israeli military to wage war against a more “conventional” military opponent, in contrast to the Palestinians it confronts daily in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to Matt Mathews of the US Army’s Combat Studies Institute, Israel was woefully unprepared to fight a “real war” in that conflict.

He notes that as a result, Mossad Chief Meir Degan and the head of Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, pointedly told then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “the war was a national catastrophe and Israel suffered a critical blow.”

The 2006 war also exposed Israel’s reliance on US weapons, which nevertheless proved insufficient to defeat Hezbollah.

During the war, Israel requested to access the WRSAI stockpile and that the US expedite the delivery of precision-guided munitions to Israel. Within just 10 days of fighting, Israel used most of its ammunition stock.

Years later, in July 2014, during Israeli military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israel was again forced to rely on the WRSAI stockpile to replenish 120-mm tank rounds and 40-mm illumination rounds fired from grenade launchers.

The problems Israel faced in 2006 and 2014 will be compounded if the Axis of Resistance now takes the step of initiating its “unification of the fronts” campaign.

David Wurmer, Middle East adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, told the Wall Street Journal on 10 October that “The nightmare scenario for the Israelis is that they go a week or two shooting down 6,000 to 10,000 Hamas missiles, and then they have nothing left to stop the Hezbollah missiles.”

The silent threat of Iran’s missiles 

The situation for Israel becomes even more challenging if Iran joins the conflict, as the Islamic Republic possesses substantial stocks of short-range and medium-range missiles capable of reaching both Israel and US bases in the region.

The US and Israel often warn of the alleged threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, despite its civilian orientation, but seldom mention the threat posed by Iran’s burgeoning conventional missile program.

Israel’s actions express its worries more clearly than its words: in February of this year, Israel launched a drone attack against an Iranian military facility in Isfahan.

According to Danny Yatom, a former head of the Mossad, the attack targeted a facility developing hypersonic missiles, which the New York Times described as “long-range munitions capable of traveling up to 15 times the speed of sound with terrifying accuracy.”

A very different Palestinian resistance

In 1993, when Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn with President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Soviet Union had recently collapsed, while Iran was recovering from a bloody war with US-backed Iraq that killed one million people on both sides.

When Arafat signed the accords, accepting US and Israeli promises that they would pave the way for a future Palestinian state, the Palestinians had few allies they could rely on and were blindsided by Tel Aviv’s actual intentions to fragment and destroy the Palestinian nation.

Through Oslo, the US and Israel created the “shared fiction,” to use New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s words, that a Palestinian state would be established at some future date. According to Friedman, this allowed Israel to continue to confiscate land to build Jewish settlements, while the US could keep “peace hopes there just barely alive,” as cover.

But now, more than 40 years later, the Palestinians are not alone. They are part of a region-wide Resistance Axis that has defeated US and Israeli agendas in a number of West Asian states, gaining invaluable fighting, organizational, and planning experience alongside reliable allies.

Meanwhile, the pile of recent US-side failures keeps mounting: Russia’s global clout spiked during the US proxy war in Ukraine; US adversaries China and Russia forged a multipolar world when Washington came at them; economic sanctions designed to cripple Russia and Iran only strengthened both states and sparked military collaborations.

Crucially, Russia and Iran today possess the industrial capabilities to produce the military firepower the US and NATO cannot provide to allies in either Tel Aviv or Kiev.

Israel has already started the fight it may not be able to finish by declaring total war on Gaza’s civilian population, killing over 1,000, including hundreds of women and children, and flattening large swathes of the Gaza Strip in airstrikes.

For Tel Aviv, Gaza has always been low-hanging fruit – the punching bag it seeks when it needs to look tough. But today, one misstep, one badly aimed missile, or one step too far, and Israel will face a regional war it cannot withstand for any significant period of time.


William Van Wagenen has a BA in German literature From Brigham Young University and an MA in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. You can read his other writings on Syria for the Libertarian Institute here. Follow him on Twitter @wvanwagenen.

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