Saturday, January 28, 2023

Ukraine To Get 155mm Artillery Shells From Israel-Based Facility; Jerusalem Wary Of Rattling Russia

The Pentagon is tapping its munitions stockpile in Israel to assist Ukraine, which is in desperate need of artillery shells for its conflict with Russia, reported the New York Times, citing American and Israeli sources.

The report, released on January 18, underscores the United States’ efforts to supply the Ukrainian military with necessary artillery ammunition as part of a larger American-led push to boost its overall fighting strength. 

With each side firing thousands of shells every day, the conflict in Ukraine has evolved into an artillery-driven battle of attrition. Due to a shortage of ammunition for its Soviet-era weapons, Ukraine has primarily switched to using artillery and rounds given by the US and its allied countries. 

The Pentagon has looked to alternative sources of shells to fill the gap caused by the strain on American stockpiles and the inability of American weapons manufacturers to keep up with the speed of Ukrainian battlefield operations.

The EurAsian Times reported that Washington has agreed to acquire 100,000 rounds of 155-millimeter artillery ammunition from South Korea. 

155-mm shells. Photo credits: US Army6

The new report noted that Washington has decided to use the arsenal it has been keeping in Israel to supplement the production of new weapons and ammunition without causing delays that would lead Ukraine to fall behind.

Israel has continuously declined to transfer weapons to Ukraine, fearing a deterioration in relations with Moscow. The report added that the Jewish state initially raised reservations about seeming involved in arming Ukraine if the Pentagon took munitions from its stockpile.

Over half of the 300,000 rounds slated for Ukraine have already been transferred to Europe and will be supplied via Poland, the report said, citing Israeli and American officials. 

The Pentagon maintains a large, little-known stockpile of weapons and ammunition for use in Middle Eastern conflicts. In the past, Israel was given access to this stockpile during times of emergency.

The US has already delivered or promised to supply nearly one million 155-millimeter shells to Ukraine. A considerable chunk of that has come from Israeli and South Korean arsenal, though less than half.

The Ukrainian army consumes over 90,000 artillery rounds every month. This figure is roughly double the rate at which they are produced in the United States and European countries combined.

According to a study released by the Foreign Policy Research Institute last month, Ukraine would have a fair chance of regaining more of the territory it had lost to Russia, provided it continued to receive regular shipments of ammunition, mainly for artillery and spare parts.

No Policy Shift 

Since 1973, the US has been hoarding weapons in Israel since the Yom Kippur War. Washington has occasionally let Jerusalem extract weaponry from its supply, notably during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014.

The idea of sending US weaponry from Israel to Ukraine first surfaced in the early stages of the conflict, but an agreement to do so was not achieved until recently, during an encrypted phone call between US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and then-Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the report revealed. 

Gantz then brought the matter before the cabinet, where it was discussed, and various points of view were heard before the then-prime minister, Yair Lapid, approved the request.

An IDF spokesperson told the New York Times that the delivery of US weapons from Israel to Ukraine does not represent a change in Israeli policy regarding military assistance to Ukraine.

The IDF spokesperson said, “a few weeks ago, based on a US request, certain equipment was transferred to the US from its stockpiles in Israel.” 

155-mm shells for the M777 howitzers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. May 2022. Photo credits: Armed Forces of Ukraine

Israel has not provided military help to Ukraine due to concerns that in addition to harming relations with Moscow, delivering such weapons could end up in the wrong hands.

Israel has also been concerned that Moscow may retaliate by using its forces in Syria to restrict Israeli airstrikes against Iranian and Hezbollah operations there. 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February of last year, Israel’s relationship with Russia has come under intense scrutiny. Ukrainian authorities have criticized Israel’s administration for providing their nation little assistance and caving into Russian pressure.

Meanwhile, Israel has supplied substantial humanitarian aid shipments to Ukraine over the past year and assisted in constructing a field hospital there in March 2022.

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