No US ground troops for Israel, White House says as Pentagon rushes munitions to ally

Unanticipated war in Israel has put more pressure on the demand for artillery shells that are being used in Ukraine

The USS Gerald R Ford in the North Sea this year before it was sent to the Eastern Mediterranean. EPA
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The Pentagon has no plans to send US ground troops to Israel during its war with Gaza, a White House official has said.

But it will work in “lockstep” with the Israeli military as they respond to the weekend's attacks and try to rescue dozens of hostages, some of whom could be Americans, the official said.

The US has repeatedly stressed support for its longtime ally as it hits back at Hamas and besieges the Gaza Strip after the attacks that killed more than 900 Israelis and led to the deaths of about 700 Palestinians. On Sunday, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Pentagon was rushing more military shipments, including munitions, to Israel.

“We fully expect that there'll be additional requests for security assistance from Israel as they continue to expend munitions in this fight,” White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said on Monday.

“And we will stay in lockstep with them, making sure that we're fulfilling their needs as best we can and as fast as we can.”

Mr Kirby said that the first shipments would arrive imminently.

President Joe Biden earlier said at least 11 Americans were killed in the attacks. More are unaccounted for, raising the prospect that US citizens are among about 150 people seized as hostages by Hamas.

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, claimed on Sunday that “dozens” of American citizens are among the hostages.

That has raised questions as to whether the Pentagon would consider sending in special operations forces to work with the Israeli military in rescuing hostages.

The USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier strike group has been sent to the Eastern Mediterranean, probably with special forces troops aboard.

But Mr Kirby said: “There's no intention to put US boots on the ground.”

The US promise to supply the Israeli army with munitions, especially artillery shells, comes at a difficult time for the Pentagon.

Its supply lines for munitions are already stretched thin as it rushes to provide them to Ukrainian forces in their counter-offensive against Russia.

Dr Loren Thompson, a defence analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank in Washington, said the Pentagon also owes Taiwan $19 billion worth of back-ordered munitions, further complicating the picture.

“My guess is that Israel has adequate stocks of air-to-ground munitions, but its surface-to-surface munitions, things like artillery rounds, should be drawn down significantly if there's a prolonged ground occupation of Gaza,” Dr Thompson told The National.

“If it's necessary to surge munitions shipments to Israel, then the Pentagon will have to make some hard choices between Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.”

There is no easy way to quickly increase the production of munitions, which can take a year to create from raw material to finished product.

“Nobody in Washington was expecting anything like this … there's no slack in the system,” Dr Thompson said. “To quickly equip Israel we would need to take whatever they need out of our military stocks.”

Matters are not being helped by domestic dysfunction in the US, where the House of Representatives is rudderless after the Republican Party fired its own speaker last week amid ideological infighting.

Not having anyone able to introduce legislation for new funds for Israel or Ukraine could hinder US aid to those countries.

Congress must pass more funding quickly for the US to be able to give both Israel and Ukraine the weapons and munitions they need, army secretary Christine Wormuth said on Monday.

“The intent is to lean forward in support of Israel,” Ms 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.”

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Updated: October 10, 2023, 3:45 AM