Israel, Ukraine, AUKUS and the Pacific

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WASHINGTON ― The White House has asked Congress to pass a $105 billion supplemental spending package with most of the money allocated for a diffuse array of the Biden administration’s defense priorities, ranging from Ukraine to Israel to the Indo-Pacific region.

Much of the money, announced Friday, is allocated to the defense-industrial base as the administration continues to send weapons to Ukraine and Israel from U.S. stockpiles before backfilling that equipment.

The package also includes funds to bolster the submarine-industrial base to get the U.S. Navy on track to meet its production goals for the nuclear-powered submarines it needs to procure for AUKUS, the trilateral submarine-sharing agreement with Australia and Britain.

“This supplemental request invests over $50 billion in the American defense industrial base ― ensuring our military continues to be the most ready, capable, and best equipped fighting force the world has ever seen,” Shalanda Young, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget director, wrote in a letter to Congress. “The funding will expand production lines, strengthening the American economy and creating new American jobs.”

President Joe Biden made his case for the package to the U.S. public during a prime-time address from the White House on Thursday night, shortly after returning from a trip to Israel. The White House is continuing to make the case for the funding request by comparing Hamas’ attacks on Israel this month to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We cannot and will not let terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Putin win. I refuse to let that happen,” Biden said.

Ukraine

More than half of the money in the proposed package would go to Ukraine, and the bulk of that includes $44.4 billion to continue arming the nation. Of that, $30 billion would be designated to replenish U.S. stockpiles of weapons already sent Ukraine.

The Biden administration hopes these funds will last through the U.S. elections next year. Numerous Republican presidential candidates, including the front-runner, former President Donald Trump, oppose additional aid to Ukraine.

The Biden administration has less than $5.5 billion to continue transferring weapons to Ukraine and cannot backfill U.S. equipment already sent Kyiv without a new package.

House Republicans removed $6 billion in Ukraine aid when Congress passed a stopgap funding bill needed to avoid a government shutdown earlier this month.

The Senate intends to move forward with the Biden administration’s request in one package, but several House Republicans have demanded separate votes on Ukraine and Israel aid. However, House Republicans have failed multiple times this week to elect a new speaker, grinding business in the lower chamber to a halt for more than two weeks. The House cannot pass anything without a new speaker.

Israel

The request also includes $14.3 billion in more military aid for Israel. That includes $10.6 billion for air and missile defense support as well as replenishment funds to backfill U.S. stocks of weapons the Biden administration has already sent Israel.

Hamas’ initial attack on Israel killed about 1,400 people, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Israel retaliated by bombarding the Gaza Strip in a campaign that has killed approximately 3,785 Palestinians, according to the local Health Ministry.

Iran has also threatened to retaliate if Israel proceeds with a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria came under attack Wednesday, and U.S. officials said the Navy shot down a missile fired by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels off the coast of Yemen that same day.

The Biden administration has already sent Israel about 1,800 Joint Direct Attack Munition kits, small diameter bombs, 155mm artillery rounds and ammunition from U.S. stockpiles, according to the Pentagon. It also continues to send Iron Dome interceptors to strike down Hamas rocket attacks. The Israeli Defense Ministry announced Thursday it also received armored vehicles from the U.S. as it prepares for a possible ground invasion of Gaza.

The munitions for Israel have raised concerns about civilian casualties in the densely populated Gaza Strip, with humanitarian groups like Doctors Without Borders noting strikes on health facilities and ambulances as well as first responder deaths.

“The president has been clear from the earliest days following the heinous terrorist attacks and assault by Hamas that the United States and Israel, as fellow democracies, have a commitment to the rule of law and the law of war,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told Defense News. “All of our arms transfers, including arms transfers to Israel, are rooted in the basic proposition that they will be used consistent with the law of armed conflict. There is no exception here.”

Additionally, the package includes $3.7 billion for Israel through the Foreign Military Financing program and in the form of embassy support. That U.S. State Department program provides grants and loans to allies and partners to buy U.S. weapons.

Israel receives an annual $3.8 billion in U.S. military aid, including $3.3 billion through Foreign Military Financing and $500 million in missile defense.

Taiwan and AUKUS

The package also asks Congress for $2 billion in Foreign Military Financing funds for allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

Congress last year authorized up to $2 billion per year in Foreign Military Financing grants for Taiwan with the aim of deterring a potential Chinese attack, but appropriators did not fund that amount. Sullivan said the Biden administration intends to use the $2 billion request for partners across the region, not just Taiwan.

Additionally, the package asks Congress for $3.4 billion to bolster the submarine-industrial base with an eye toward AUKUS implementation. The U.S. Navy is already behind on its goal of producing two Virginia-class attack submarines per year and will have to slightly increase that goal to transfer at least three and as many as five of those vessels to Australia in the 2030s.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has held up two key AUKUS authorizations, demanding the Biden administration and Congress invest more funds in the submarine-industrial base.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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