Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the case for funding to aid two democracies fighting for survival: Israel and Ukraine.
The two men testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee today asking for $68.3 billion in supplemental funds.
“We are requesting $10.6 billion to help Israel defend itself,” Austin said. “The supplemental [funding] also requests $44.4 billion to help Ukraine continue to defend itself against Russia’s ongoing aggression. We’re also requesting $3.3 billion to meet U.S. military requirements in our submarine industrial base and to fulfill our [Australia-United Kingdon-United States] requirements.”
The Hamas terror group based in Gaza attacked Israel on Oct. 7, murdering more than 1,400 Israelis, wounding many others and kidnapping more than 200 hostages. In the attack, Hamas killed 36 Americans.
The Hamas attack was the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history. “It was cruel, hateful and repugnant,” Austin said. The secretary said it reminded him of some of the bloodiest atrocities that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria committed in 2015 when the group pushed through Iraq and Syria beheading opponents, raping women and burning prisoners alive.
Austin told the senators of his trip to Israel in the aftermath of the attacks, “to underscore America’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.”
Today, Israeli forces are pushing into Gaza seeking to bring to justice those who attacked Israel and to free those still held hostage by the terror group. The war in the heavily built-up city has placed civilians in the line of fire. “We fully understand that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people,” the secretary said. “And we mourn the loss of Palestinian civilians. I have repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative. Democracies like ours are stronger and more secure when we uphold the law of war and protect civilians.”
Austin told the senators that DOD is operating on four key lines of effort. “First, we will continue to protect American forces and citizens in the region,” he said. “Our personnel have come under repeated attack in recent days by Iranian-backed militia groups. These attacks must stop.”
He pointed to U.S. strikes on eastern Syria that targeted facilities that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps uses to supply and train their proxy forces in Syria and Iraq. “If Iranian-backed groups continue to attack U.S. forces, we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people,” he said.
The secretary also deployed a terminal high-altitude area defense battery and additional Patriot batteries into the region.
He said DOD is flowing security assistance into Israel “at the speed of war.” This aid includes air-defense capabilities, precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs and other key equipment. The United States is also helping replenish the quiver of interceptors for the Iron Dome system.
The Defense Department is also working to secure the release of hostages Hamas seized. U.S. military advisers have consulted with the Israelis on hostage recovery operations.
Deterrence is another part of the U.S. effort in the region with two carrier strike groups now in the region, backed by additional Air Force squadrons. These additional forces supplement military capabilities already in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. “All [of] this underscores [President Joe Biden’s] clear warning: No government or group that wishes Israel harm should try to widen this crisis,” Austin said.
Ukraine is another democracy fighting for its life and sovereignty. Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded the country in February 2022 fully expecting an easy win over an overmatched foe. But the Ukrainians, with help from nations worldwide, stopped the Russian military in its tracks and forced the Russians back from the Great Gate of Kyiv. Austin said that nearly 20 months into Putin’s failed campaign of conquest, the Russian military has been badly weakened. “Ukraine’s brave forces have taken back more than half of the territory seized by Russian invaders since February 2022,” he said. “That was made possible by bipartisan and principled U.S. leadership — and our coalition of some 50 allies and partners.”
Austin said Americans need to understand that what happens in Ukraine and Israel matters to the United States. “It affects our national security, as well,” he said. “We also have to remind ourselves that these countries are in a fight. They’re fighting every day, and there are people dying every day. In Ukraine, Putin continues to attack civilians and commit war crimes [that are] despicable.”
These countries urgently need the resources to ensure that they can continue to defend their sovereign territory, he said “In Ukraine, Putin has felt that he could wait us out,” the secretary said. “That’s … the main part of his strategy. He feels that the West will get tired of supporting Ukraine, and he will soon have his way. If that’s the case, if we don’t support Ukraine, then Putin wins.”
If Putin wins in Ukraine, he will push on, Austin said. NATO nations will be threatened. “I think it is important to do what’s necessary to support Ukraine and Israel and to help them defend their sovereign territory,” he said. “In both Israel and Ukraine, democracies are fighting ruthless foes who are out to annihilate them. We will not let Hamas or Putin win. Today’s battles against aggression and terrorism will define global security for years to come. Only firm American leadership can ensure that tyrants, thugs and terrorists worldwide are not emboldened to commit more aggression and more atrocities.”