As Israel prepares to launch a likely ground invasion into Gaza, the Biden Administration and leading members of Congress are crafting an American aid package of roughly $2 billion in supplementary funding to support the nation’s war effort against Hamas, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell TIME.
The funding would go toward replenishing Israel’s stockpile of interceptors for its Iron Dome missile-defense system, artillery shells, and other munitions. If approved, the assistance would come at a crucial time for Israel, as it gears for a lengthy and devastating offensive against the terror group that brutally massacred more than 1,200 Israelis in Saturday’s surprise attack.
“We’re heading into a war for many, many weeks, maybe several months, in which the objective is to dismantle Hamas,” Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, told TIME shortly after attending a briefing from White House officials on the situation. “It will be perhaps the highest casualty war Israel has faced since the War of Independence,” he added, referring to the 1948 blitz that five Arab nations waged against Israel shortly after its establishment. “But Israel didn’t ask for this.”
While there’s strong bipartisan consensus on bolstering Israel’s campaign against Hamas, the White House is planning to tie that assistance to more polarizing causes: military support for Ukraine and Taiwan and increased border security funding. In a call with senators Tuesday night, administration officials said they were drawing up a supplemental defense package that would cover all four portfolios, according to a source on the call.
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That’s sure to turn the measure into a flashpoint in Washington. Many hard-right Republican lawmakers vehemently oppose sending more resources to Ukraine and have been willing to destabilize the government over it. A small band of right-wing rebels recently ousted Rep. Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker in part because of his continued support for U.S. assistance to Ukraine.
The White House would not confirm or deny its plans. "We're in active conversations with Congress about additional funding that we know we need specifically for Israel and Ukraine,” White House National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby said. “I'm not prepared to detail those conversations for you right now or tell you what the parameters are going to be.”
Both Sherman and a senior White House official said they expect President Joe Biden to send a formal request to Congress over supplementary Israel funding in the coming weeks. “My tentative figure, along with a number of others, is that we can introduce legislation on this for $2 billion,” says Sherman, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. While Biden may want to leverage GOP eagerness to help Israel swiftly in order to secure a new tranche of Ukraine aid, Sherman expects the Israeli package will ultimately pass as a stand-alone measure.
The effort to advance supplementary Israel aid comes after the country suffered a massive intelligence and military failure over the weekend, resulting in a multi-front incursion by Hamas terrorists into Israel through land, air, and sea. The militants stormed kibbutzim in southern Israel near the Gaza border, where they savagely attacked civilians—including acts of barbarism such as beheading babies—and took hundreds hostage. At least 14 Americans were killed in the attack and others were taken hostage. Administration officials are unsure of the exact number of U.S. hostages but said on Wednesday that 17 Americans are still missing.
Egyptian security officials warned Israel in the days ahead of a looming attack, according to multiple reports, and some in Israel have cast blame on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet for diverting military resources away from the Gaza border to protect West Bank settlements.
Since the attack, Netanyahu has declared a war against Hamas, vowing to abandon Jerusalem’s strategy of containing the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip. “Every Hamas member is a dead man,” the Israeli premier said. “Hamas is ISIS, and we will crush and eliminate it just as the world crushed and eliminated ISIS.”
The Israeli military has amassed forces along the Gaza border in what appears to be the early stages of a ground invasion. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has deployed an aircraft carrier strike group near the region to deter Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militant groups from joining the fight.
In remarks Tuesday, Biden said the U.S. was sending “additional military assistance” to the Jewish state. “We stand with Israel, and we will make sure it has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself and respond to this attack.”
The escalating conflict stands to inflict even more destruction and suffering in the strip, where roughly 2.3 million Palestinians live. “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said this week. “There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything will be closed.” At the White House’s congressional briefing Wednesday, several members pressed the administration on how it would ensure that Palestinian civilians in Gaza have access to food, water, and medicine in the coming months.
Both American and Israeli officials are anticipating support for Israel to waver as the war ramps up and Palestinian civilian casualties mount. Hamas is known to place its weapon depots in densely populated areas, effectively using Palestinian non-combatants as human shields. It then disseminates photos and videos of their deaths through media channels in an apparent bid to turn public opinion against Israel.
Still, officials say, the Biden Administration plans to stick with Israel over the long haul. It’s been warning members of Congress of the pain and bloodshed likely to come as Israel moves to decimate an enemy that caught it off guard. “Nothing is worse than underestimating your rival,” says Uzi Arad, Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser from 2009 to 2011. “We underestimated their determination or their motives or the extremes to which they were willing to go.”
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