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Hamas Attack on Israel Adds to Ukraine Aid Fears

Will the devastating attack on Israel by Hamas militants detract from international support for Kyiv?

It’s a question that is on the mind of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has expressed concern in recent days that the answer might be yes.

Those worries come on top of uncertainty over the long-term future of US aid for Kyiv due to opposition from hardline Republican lawmakers, which led Congress to drop new funding for Ukraine from a recent bill.

Zelensky – who visited Brussels Wednesday for a meeting of Ukraine’s international supporters – said his question for them was whether assistance will lessen.

“The partners say no. But who knows how it will be? I think nobody knows,” he said.

The Ukrainian leader also voiced similar worries in a recent interview with the France 2 broadcaster, saying: “There is a risk that international attention will turn away from Ukraine, and that will have consequences.”

Despite his concerns, Zelensky has repeatedly expressed support for Israel following the multi-pronged Hamas attack from Gaza that the Palestinian militant group launched Saturday, which has left thousands of people dead.

NATO head Jens Stoltenberg shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the end of a joint press conference in Kyiv, on April 20, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the end of a joint press conference in Kyiv, on April 20, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

The assault sparked widespread international condemnation and rapid action by Washington, which sent an aircraft carrier and other warships to the eastern Mediterranean and promised munitions and other equipment to Israel.

But US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and other American officials say this does not mean support for Ukraine will suffer.

“In terms of our ability to continue to support both the efforts in Ukraine and… the efforts in Israel as well, absolutely – we can do both, and we will do both,” Austin said Wednesday in Brussels.

Zelensky later said in his daily address that he had been assured the United States “will continue to provide Ukraine with the constant and uninterrupted support necessary for its defense.”

Shifting Attention From Ukraine

Diplomats from Washington’s NATO allies have also expressed confidence that the United States is capable of dealing with two crises simultaneously, though there is some concern of overlap between Israeli and Ukrainian requirements.

A senior US official, however, said the two countries’ needs are not necessarily the same.

“Some of the things that Israel will be needing like reinforcements for Iron Dome don’t necessarily conflict with the kinds of things that we’d be giving to Ukraine,” the official said, referring to an air defense system that Israel uses to counter rocket and mortar fire.

“On the face of it, I think we can do both, but it’s worth keeping an eye on,” the official added.

A more direct threat to Ukraine aid comes from US lawmakers whose opposition to further assistance led Congress to remove new funding for Kyiv from a compromise bill to avoid a government shutdown.

Although the US government still has authority to withdraw billions more dollars in equipment for Ukraine from American military stocks, additional funding will be required – and it is far from certain that it will be provided.

Highlighting the hostility of some Republicans to aid for Kyiv, Senator Josh Hawley – a member of the upper house of Congress – called earlier this week for any Ukraine assistance to be “redirected to Israel immediately.”

Washington is by far the biggest donor of military aid to Ukraine, and a cut to American assistance would be a major blow to Kyiv as it presses ahead with a slow-moving counteroffensive and readies for the second winter of the war.

Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Israel-Hamas conflict “has taken all the attention away from Ukraine” for the moment, but that the length of the conflict will determine the extent to which it may draw resources away from Kyiv.

“A lot depends on how long the war goes on. If it’s only a few weeks, the trade-offs will not be severe. If the war goes on longer, then Israel will need more items and there will be more need for trade-offs,” he said.

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