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On a broad geopolitical level, the biggest loser of the Israel-Gaza war is Ukraine. The biggest winner is Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Having two major wars happening at the same time will take momentum from Ukraine.
Before this new war started, Ukraine was already battling to keep its funding going as the shifting politics in the United States moved against it.
In some ways, Ukraine’s biggest challenge is not Vladimir Putin — its army has both his measure and the measure of the Russian army — but the murky, swirling waters of a dysfunctional Washington.
Among both Republicans and Democrats in Congress — the body that decides what money goes to which cause — Ukraine is losing support.
Joe Biden and the Democrats remain more committed than the Republicans and Donald Trump, but it’s clear that both sides realise that in middle America there is a growing sentiment: why should we be paying for yet another foreign war?
The US cools on Ukraine
In a Reuters/Ipsos poll this month, which asked respondents whether Washington should provide weapons to Ukraine, 41 per cent of Americans said yes, compared to 46 per cent in May.
“The declining support is having a negative effect on congressional support, and eventually, prospects for additional aid packages,” Elizabeth Hoffman, director of congressional and government affairs at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies, told Reuters.
Reuters reported that, among Republicans, support for sending weapons to Kyiv fell to 35 per cent from 39 per cent in May while among Democrats support had fallen to 52 per cent from 61 per cent.
If the US goes cool on Ukraine, so does NATO. As the biggest funder of NATO, Washington is crucial.
Although the battle to keep funding going was getting difficult, for Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy the events in Israel and Gaza have largely wiped Ukraine from the discussion — for the moment at least.
Contrast between two allies at war
The US gives Israel $US3.3 billion a year in military aid — about 16 per cent of Israel’s defence budget. Since the Hamas attack Israel has requested additional security assistance, which Washington has said is arriving in the form of munitions and air defence supplies.
It’s fascinating to see the contrast in the approach the US has had to Israel’s security crisis versus Ukraine’s.
Within days of the Hamas attack into southern Israel, the US had dispatched its largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, to sit in the eastern Mediterranean — a clear message to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, not to even think about trying to take advantage of the surprise attack on Israel.
But this was only the beginning. As Associated Press reported, within hours of the attack the US began moving warships and aircraft to the region to be ready to provide Israel with whatever it needed to respond.
“A second US carrier strike group departs from Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday. Scores of aircraft are heading to US military bases around the Middle East. Special operations forces are now assisting Israel’s military in planning and intelligence. The first shipment of additional munitions has already arrived. More is expected, soon. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will arrive in Israel Friday to meet with Israeli leaders to discuss what else the US can provide.”
One of the most interesting comments US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made on his visit to Jerusalem after the Hamas attack was that Israel doesn’t really need US assistance, but he wants Israelis to know that if they do it’s there.
Mr Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
“The message that I bring you is this: you may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself — but as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to. We will always be there, by your side.
“That’s the message that President Biden delivered to the prime minister from the moment this crisis began. It’s the message that I and my other colleagues in the government have delivered to our Israeli counterparts on a daily — even an hourly — basis.
“It’s the message that I bring with me to our discussions today, and it’s what I’ll affirm when I meet with the members of Israel’s newly formed national emergency government. We welcome the government’s creation and the unity and resolve that it reflects across Israel’s society. We’re delivering on our word — supplying ammunition, interceptors to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome, alongside other defence materiel. The first shipments of US military support have already arrived in Israel, and more is on the way.
“As Israel’s defence needs evolve, we will work with Congress to make sure that they’re met. And I can tell you there is overwhelming — overwhelming — bipartisan support in our Congress for Israel’s security.”
The contrast with Ukraine was stark. The US was offering an urgent, new package to a country that he says probably doesn’t need it yet.
While Congress is pushing back on funding to Ukraine.
The threats aren’t equal
The Hamas incursion was not indicative of Hamas being a superior fighting force — quite the contrary, it was due to a dreadful lapse in intelligence and systems by Israel, the reasons for which will be heavily reviewed by Israel in coming months.
Israel’s massive military advantage over Hamas was shown in its response — how it was able to drop more than 6,000 bombs in six days on the Gaza Strip, a parcel of land half the size of Canberra, while at the same time stopping the vast majority of Hamas rockets with its state-of-the-art Iron Dome.
Support for Israel has been decisive and real — no one seriously believes that with the strongest military in the Middle East Israel’s existence is under threat — while the provision of real support to Ukraine has been slow and grudging.
Ukraine’s existence is genuinely under threat. Without the support of the US and NATO, Ukraine will probably cease to exist.
Without Ukraine receiving international funding, the Russian army would probably be able to march triumphantly into Kyiv. Much of the weaponry that Zelenskyy so desperately wanted has not materialised.
Twenty months after Putin’s invasion, Ukraine still does not have the F-16 fighter jets that it needs.
For the moment Ukraine is able to hold the line against Russia — and make some slow progress in its so-called counter-offensive. But it cannot properly use all its NATO support without air cover.
Putin playing the long game
It probably cannot win this war without air cover. Military strategists generally argue that an army today cannot win a war without significant air cover. Certainly, military chiefs from various NATO countries have made clear they would not want to fight without air cover.
A leading Rand Corporation analyst, Brynn Tannehill, says F-16s are crucial to helping Ukraine better work with NATO countries.
“While F-16s are by no means a wonder weapon that will turn the tide of the war, they will help Ukraine adopt more-Western styles of war fighting — or force it to — and help its military cooperate better with those of NATO. Unlike the previous provisions of anti-tank missiles, artillery, armoured vehicles, and air defences, the decision to give Ukraine F-16s is not about helping it survive the next phase of the war, but helping it ensure its sovereignty in the long term.”
Putin will have relished the way the Israel-Gaza war has knocked Ukraine from international consciousness.
With NATO funding, Ukraine is just managing to keep a military gridlock.
Given the well-stated views of Donald Trump supporters towards Ukraine, Putin knows if he sits back and waits his empire may indeed expand.
The Russian president is playing the long game and would be pleased with what the passage of time is delivering him.