Washington’s battle over aid to Israel and Ukraine — should it be one, both or neither? — moved to the largest of global stages this week when senior U.S. and European diplomats attempted to make the case for waging two wars at once.
The foreign ministers of the NATO transatlantic alliance, the cornerstone of peace and stability for three-quarters of a century, came together at the body’s headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday. The discussions were dominated not by U.S.-European relations, but by the turmoil battering Ukraine, Israel and the Palestinian territories that Israel occupies.
“Listening to all of our colleagues around the table, every single one expressed strong support for Ukraine,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a news conference. “We must and we will continue to support Ukraine.”
He said that while the Israel-Hamas war was discussed, it did not derail a united stance on Ukraine.
As in the United States, Europeans are increasingly cautious about sending billions of dollars to both Ukraine and Israel. Some of the same doubts that American citizens are now having about the war in Ukraine — that two years and $77 billion in U.S. aid have failed to secure military victory over better-armed Russia — are spreading in parts of Europe. A new government in Slovakia has said it is ending aid to Ukraine, although Germany and Estonia are stepping up their contributions.
Meanwhile, support for Israel is strong in U.S. and European governments, although that also could lag as the death toll of civilians in the Gaza Strip under Israeli bombardment soars to unprecedented numbers.
The Biden administration has attempted to link the cases of Ukraine and Israel, saying both are democracies warding off illegitimate attacks from aggressive forces. While that papers over key differences in the history and dynamics of the two conflicts, it has become the administration’s preferred framework.
“History has taught us when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction,” President Biden said from the Oval Office last month.
Biden has proposed a $106-billion package of aid and equipment for the two countries, a measure that is languishing in Congress.
There, results are mixed and taking a contentious turn. Several Republicans want to cut aid to Ukraine and tie money for Israel to one of the most polarizing issues in the U.S.: security along the country’s southern border with Mexico. Some analysts say such a plan could doom the measure.
For Ukraine, the package includes anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, artillery rocket systems and millions of rounds of ammunition. But aid packages have been diminishing in size as the war drags into its second winter.
It will “help meet Ukraine’s immediate battlefield needs, but only just that,” John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said of the latest allotment. “The runway continues to get shorter with each and every passing assistance package that we provide them. The actions that we take and, just as critically, the potential actions we don’t take will reverberate for many years to come.”
Here at NATO, U.S. officials were adamant about portraying a united front in the face of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, signaling that European nations now contribute more aid to Ukraine than the U.S.
“Allies will continue to support Ukraine’s self-defense until Russia stops its war of aggression,” Jim O’Brien, the U.S. State Department’s top envoy for Europe, said in a briefing ahead of the Brussels meetings.
In addition to the wider NATO meeting, the U.S. held separate talks with Britain, France, Germany and Italy on the Israel-Hamas conflict, urging continued “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting for the release of Hamas-held hostages and entry to the Gaza Strip of supplies, and for the eventual establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.
Blinken will later travel to Israel and the West Bank and will advocate for extending the temporary truce that has allowed for the release of Israeli and foreign-national hostages by Hamas, the freedom of Palestinians held in Israeli jails and the entrance of humanitarian supplies into the devastated Gaza Strip.
He repeated his administration’s belief that the “best path” to “genuinely lasting, durable peace and stability” for Israelis and Palestinians is the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
A senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity late Tuesday to discuss private talks said his government was increasingly convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not even discuss a peace agreement with Ukraine until he sees the results of the next U.S. presidential election. Putin had good relations with former President Trump, who did not challenge his abuses of power.
“In that context, it is important that NATO shows its support,” the official said.
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, was attacked on Feb. 22, 2022, by the much-larger, nuclear-equipped Russia. Putin declared he intended to erase Ukraine, which, he said, didn’t really exist as a country. Fighting since then has claimed the lives of at least 10,000 civilians, according to the United Nations.
Israel, another nuclear power which has occupied or controlled the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza for decades, was attacked by a much smaller Islamic militant group on Oct. 7. Hamas gunmen from Gaza stormed southern Israel in a massacre that killed at least 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians and including children, in a matter of hours, according to Israel. They also kidnapped more than 200 Israelis and foreign nationals.
Israel responded with a fierce bombardment of the tiny Gaza Strip, followed by a ground invasion. More than 13,300 Palestinians, at least half of them women and children, have been killed, according to Gaza officials.
Ukraine and Israel are in very different positions confronting their enemies: Ukraine is fighting a superpower; a powerful Israel fights militants that the U.S., Europe and others consider to be terrorists.
Their needs and advantage-to-disadvantage ratios are very different. Both say, however, they are in a fight for their existence.
Numerous foreign policy experts agree with the Biden administration and also see the link between the fight, despite the disparity of power, of one neighbor attacking another, and believe that one conflict should not cancel out the other.
“It is unfathomable to me that this would be seen as either-or,” said Mara Rudman, a Middle East expert with the Clinton and Obama administrations who is now at the Center for American Progress policy institute.
The debate has seeped into the 2024 presidential race. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who prides herself on her foreign policy credentials, having served as Trump’s ambassador to the U.N., said in a recent campaign stop that both Ukraine and Israel deserved U.S. aid, the latter country “no questions asked.”
“There’s a reason the Ukrainians want us to support the Israelis: because they know the dangers that if Iran wins, for them, Russia wins,” she said, alluding to Iran’s support for Hamas. “It’s all connected.”
Source: LA Times