The devastating conflict between Hamas militants and Israel has captured the world’s attention, but concerns are growing that this intense focus may have consequences far beyond the Middle East.
Specifically, the worry is that international support for Ukraine, which has been grappling with its own challenges, might dwindle in the face of the escalating crisis in the Holy Land.
Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, has expressed these concerns, questioning whether assistance to his country will lessen as the world’s gaze remains fixed on the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza.
Nevertheless, the Ukrainian President has continued to express support for Israel in the wake of the multi-pronged Hamas attack launched last week.
The assault, which has left thousands of people dead, sparked widespread international condemnation and rapid condemnation by the United States. Washington was quick to send an aircraft carrier and other warships to the eastern Mediterranean and promised munitions and other equipment to Israel. This swift response underscores America’s commitment to Israel’s security.
However, President Zelensky’s concerns about international support for Ukraine are not unfounded. Beyond the immediate crisis in Israel, there have been recent challenges to Ukraine’s access to aid, including opposition from hardline Republican lawmakers in the United States, which led to Congress dropping new funding for Ukraine from a recent bill.
The US Stance
In a recent visit to Brussels for a meeting of Ukraine’s international supporters, President Zelensky raised the pressing question: Will international attention shift away from Ukraine, and what will be the consequences if it does?
Thank you to our allies & partners for another great meeting of the UDCG. Since Russia’s cruel invasion, this group has rallied to support Ukraine’s brave defenders.
The U.S. will continue to lead efforts to coordinate security assistance to meet Ukraine’s battlefield needs. pic.twitter.com/Xro2xF5LyT
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) October 12, 2023
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other American officials have offered reassurance, emphasizing that support for Ukraine will not diminish due to America’s commitment to Israel.
Secretary Austin made it clear during his visit to Brussels that the United States can support both Ukraine and Israel simultaneously, saying:
“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.”
Zelensky, in his daily address following these discussions, expressed confidence that the United States would continue to provide the “constant and uninterrupted support necessary for Ukraine’s defense.”
Overlapping Needs and Challenges
Diplomats from Washington’s NATO allies have also expressed confidence that the United States is capable of managing both crises simultaneously.
While there is some concern about potential overlap between Israeli and Ukrainian requirements, a senior US official highlighted that the two countries’ needs are not necessarily in direct competition.
“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 noted, referring to the air defense system that Israel uses to counter rocket and mortar fire.
The official added, “On the face of it, I think we can do both, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.”
While there may be differences in the specific types of military equipment required by Ukraine and Israel, this dual commitment still presents a challenge.
Balancing the demands of two significant international crises while maintaining the necessary levels of support for both nations requires careful coordination and allocation of resources.
Threats to Ukraine’s Aid
In addition to the complex situation arising from the Israel-Hamas conflict, a more direct threat to Ukraine’s aid comes from US lawmakers who oppose further assistance. This opposition led Congress to remove new funding for Kyiv from a compromise bill designed to prevent a government shutdown.
Ukraine has relied significantly on US military aid, making this a critical issue. While the US government still has the authority to provide billions more dollars in equipment for Ukraine from American military stocks, additional funding is required for the sustained support Ukraine needs. Unfortunately, it is far from certain that this funding will be provided.
Highlighting the hostility of some Republicans to aid Kyiv, Senator Josh Hawley called for redirecting any Ukraine assistance to Israel.
Washington has traditionally been the largest donor of military aid to Ukraine, and a reduction in American support would significantly impact Kyiv’s ability to continue its counteroffensive efforts and prepare for another winter of war.
Length of Conflict Determines Impact
The Israel-Hamas conflict has indeed drawn significant international attention away from Ukraine. However, the extent of the impact on Ukraine’s support will depend on how long the war in the Middle East continues.
Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that the Israel-Hamas conflict has temporarily shifted the world’s focus away from Ukraine.
He pointed out that the length of the conflict in Israel would be a critical factor in determining how much it might draw resources away from Ukraine.
“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,” Cancian explained.
In essence, the longer the Israel-Hamas conflict persists, the greater the potential impact on international support for Ukraine. While officials and leaders from the United States and its allies have expressed a commitment to balancing support for both nations, the reality of managing these commitments in a time of global crisis remains a complex and evolving challenge.
As the world watches the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza, it is crucial for policymakers and diplomats to navigate this delicate balance, ensuring that support for Ukraine remains steadfast while addressing the pressing needs of the Middle East. The coming weeks and months will reveal the extent to which this balancing act can be successfully maintained.