The United States will supply Israel with the capabilities it needs to combat the Hamas terror group even as it supplies Ukraine with the weaponry needed to defeat Russia, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said today at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“We can and will stand by Israel, even as we stand by Ukraine,” Austin said at the conclusion of a meeting of NATO defense ministers. “The United States can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
The NATO defense ministers discussed the situation in the Middle East during their meeting. “We are appalled by the emerging scope of the atrocities committed by the terrorists of Hamas,” Austin said. “Our hearts go out to all those whose loved ones were murdered or wounded or taken hostage. No country would live with the wholesale killing and kidnapping of innocent people, including the very old and the very young.”
In response to the terror attacks out of Gaza, the United States moved naval and aviation assets to the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf region to reinforce deterrence. “Nobody should try to take advantage of this vile Hamas assault to cause more bloodshed or instability,” Austin said. “Our support for Israel is rock solid. We’re working urgently to get Israel what it needs to defend itself, including munitions and Iron Dome interceptors. And we will do so, even as we continue to support the people of Ukraine as they fight against Russian aggression.”
This was the first defense ministers’ meeting since the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, over the summer. He noted that leaders at the summit welcomed Finland as a member of the alliance, and he called for the immediate accession of Sweden to the defensive organization.
Austin said the defense leaders discussed the alliance’s new regional defense plans and the progress on the new multinational and multidomain allied reaction force. “This new force will provide more response options to threats and crises across all domains,” he said. The ministers also discussed the defense investment pledge. That pledge re-affirmed the commitment of alliance nations to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. “Let me also underscore the words of ‘at least 2 percent’: We urgently need to do more to fulfill the commitments that all of our leaders have made,” he said.
The ministers examined ways to strengthen defense industrial bases in the various countries with an eye toward improving alliance interoperability.
Overarching all this is the discussion about Ukraine and the alliance’s enduring commitment to a free and sovereign Ukraine. Ukrainian forces continue to make steady progress against Russians occupying their country, Austin said, and NATO nations have been critical in helping the nation keep up the fight.
“I am tremendously proud of all the progress that NATO has made,” the secretary said. “We [have] still got a lot more to do, but we will get it done together.”
The NATO nations are living up to the commitments they have made. “Let me be clear, NATO is a defensive alliance,” Austin said. “We will not be drawn into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s illegal war of choice, but we will stand up for Ukraine’s right to defend itself. And we will continue to strengthen this alliance for the challenges to come. And we will defend the sovereignty and territory of every NATO ally. America’s commitment to that mission is ironclad, and so is our commitment to Article 5” of the North Atlantic Treaty. According to NATO, that language invokes principle of collective defense.