Army secretary says Congress must boost aid to Israel

Congress must pass more funding quickly for the U.S. to be able to give both Israel and Ukraine the weapons and munitions they both now need, a top Pentagon official said Monday, as the State Department raised the number of confirmed American deaths in the Hamas attack in Israel to nine.

“The intent is to lean forward in support of Israel,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said. “But in particular with munitions and the ability to support Israel and Ukraine simultaneously, additional funding is needed to increase our capacity to expand production and then also pay for the munitions themselves.”

It is clear the administration is now facing potentially competing requests from Israel and Ukraine for additional weaponry. And while there is strong bipartisan support in Congress for aid to Israel, the next steps are uncertain, with the House lacking a leader after the ouster of the Republican speaker and the Senate out of town until next week.

It also was unclear whether the debate over further assistance to Ukraine, which is opposed by a group of hard-right Republicans, would complicate efforts to pass assistance for Israel.

Wormuth, speaking at the annual Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, said the administration was still “in the early stage of the process of evaluating our ability to support what the IDF needs,” referring to the Israeli Defense Forces. She did not provide details.

Most of the weaponry sent already to help Ukraine has come from Army stocks and defense contractors at a rate that has challenged the global supply chain, and while the Army has recently ramped up production of some critical lines, such as 155 mm ammunition for howitzers, they are not yet at full speed.

With a new ground offensive in Gaza imminent following the Saturday surprise attack by Hamas, Army officials said Monday they were concerned about the ability to meet additional demand for ground munitions and that Congress needed to act quickly to provide help in time.

The State Department said at least nine American citizens have been killed in the Hamas attack on Israel. It said an undetermined number of American citizens remain unaccounted for. It was not yet clear if the missing are dead, in hiding, or had been taken hostage.

The attack by Hamas and Israel’s response have left more than 1,100 dead and thousands wounded on both sides.

In the aftermath of the Hamas attack, the White House has asked Senate leaders to fast track confirmation of President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Israel, former Obama-era Treasury Secretary and White House chief of staff Jack Lew, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity. The White House has received assurances that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will push forward hearings for Lew, the official added.

The U.S. is currently without an ambassador after the departure of Ambassador Tom Nides in July. Biden nominated Lew in September.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday he has ordered the Ford carrier strike group to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist Israel. The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, and its approximately 5,000 sailors and deck of warplanes will be accompanied by cruisers and destroyers in a show of force that is meant to be ready to respond to anything, from possibly interdicting additional weapons from reaching Hamas and conducting surveillance.

The large deployment reflects a U.S. desire to deter any regional expansion of the conflict. But the Israeli government formally declared war Sunday and gave the green light for “significant military steps” to retaliate against Hamas.

Along with the Ford, the U.S. is sending the cruiser Normandy and destroyers Thomas Hudner, Ramage, Carney, and Roosevelt, and the U.S. is augmenting Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region.

Austin said the U.S. also will be providing Israel with “additional equipment and resources, including munitions,” with the first shipments to begin arriving in the coming days.

The Norfolk, Virginia-based carrier strike group already was in the Mediterranean. Last week it was conducting naval exercises with Italy in the Ionian Sea. The carrier is in its first full deployment.

Senior officials from the Pentagon and State Department briefed senators Sunday night, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said they were assured that the United States was giving Israel “everything they need.”

Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.

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