Hamas’s terrorism against Israel should motivate Congress to overcome its dysfunction and provide the funds to arm America’s allies as they seek to defeat the forces of barbarism. Israel has requested American military support as it begins its operations against Hamas and its supporters. President Biden reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “Whatever you need, you will get it”; to the Biden administration’s credit, the first such shipments have already arrived. Having similarly committed to supporting Ukraine’s defense “as long as it takes,” Biden and bipartisan congressional leaders have begun articulating the case for passing a supplemental defense bill for both Israel and Ukraine, in addition to democratic Taiwan, to deter China from deciding that now is a good time to make its move.
Aid to Taiwan is mostly uncontroversial. And while most of Congress agrees on providing arms to Israel and Ukraine, factions in each party will likely oppose one or the other, for different reasons.
The leftist wing of the Democratic Party has long opposed American financial and defense support of Israel. After Hamas’s atrocities on October 7, Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) and Cori Bush (D., Mo.) both called for the end of aid to Israel. Bush said that, “as long as our country provides billions in unconditional funding to support the apartheid government, this heartbreaking cycle of violence will continue.” Recall the 2021 tear-filled breakdown of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) when she switched her vote on funding for Israel’s missile-defense system, known as Iron Dome, from against to present. That is the same Iron Dome which has saved the lives of thousands of Israelis. Boeing’s rush delivery of 1,000 air-launched Small Diameter Bombs, which will be made into Smart Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), provides another potential obstacle in Congress. Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and others opposed the Boeing delivery to Israel during the last Gaza conflict. The group resisting weapons to Israel may be smaller now, but it could grow as Israel’s response to Hamas continues.
Meanwhile, the anti-Ukraine wing of the Republican Party is now wrongly claiming that American military support for Ukraine has weakened America’s ability to help Israel. Take Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), who had been saying that the U.S. couldn’t help Ukraine because it must focus on the urgent threat from China. On Monday, Hawley wrote on X/Twitter, “Israel is facing existential threat. Any funding for Ukraine should be redirected to Israel immediately.” But without U.S. weapons, Ukraine also faces such a threat.
And Israel is in a different fight from Ukraine. Israel will have little use for Stinger anti-aircraft systems and Javelin anti-armor systems. Hamas, Hezbollah, and their backer Iran have few armored or aerial systems for Israel to target. Israel won’t need Abrams tanks, which it has never bought; the country domestically produces the Merkava competitor. Israel won’t require F-16s, which it has sold to other countries. Israel also produces its own competitor to HIMARs, which it claims is more flexible and cheaper.
Instead, initial reports and historical precedent suggest Israel will request Iron Dome interceptors, which Israel rightly resisted pressure to send to Ukraine; more JDAMs, which we have a high capacity to produce in St. Charles, Mo.; and artillery. Critics of military support to Ukraine have seized on this last bit to point out that, earlier this year, the previous Israeli government approved an American request to transfer some of the American pre-positioned store of 155mm ammunition in Israel to Ukraine. The War Reserve Stocks for Allies–Israel, as it is known, belongs to the U.S. and is intended for American use. Yet Washington has approved Israeli requests to tap and replace materiel during crises. Reports suggest that not only was this so-called “dumb” ammunition unlikely to ever be used by the Israelis given that nearly everything they use is precision-guided, but also that Israel has a robust domestic industrial capacity to produce new 155m shells, which has not been tapped for Ukraine given Israel’s desire to avoid angering Russia. (Despite Israel’s complicated relationship with Russia, it supports Ukraine diplomatically and has taken Ukrainian refugees.)
This is not to say that the United States has an unlimited supply of weapons with healthy production capacity. It does not. Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine has alerted Congress to just how underprepared the United States is to produce many more weapons on a large scale and at a rapid pace. Congress has begun addressing shortfalls by reforming contracting, but much more is required. Israel’s counter-campaign against Iran’s tentacles will make this reality even more apparent.
But the answer is not to permit Russia, Iran, and perhaps China, three nations that collaborate against the United States, to destroy sovereign nations. The answer is to expand and rebuild an American defense-industrial base that has gone weak since the Cold War. It will take a great sense of national purpose, but it can be done. As Winston Churchill said: “The United States is like a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.” It is time to light the boiler.