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US Promises Israel 'Ironclad Support' Following Hamas Attack


A man stands in front of a damaged shop in Tel Aviv, after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, Oct. 7, 2023.
A man stands in front of a damaged shop in Tel Aviv, after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, Oct. 7, 2023.

The U.S. condemnation of the Hamas terror attack on Israel is being backed by pledges to make sure the Israeli military has what it needs to repel the assault and defend its people.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a phone call Saturday with Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant promised "his ironclad support" for the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, according to a Pentagon readout.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at the Pentagon in Washington, July 18, 2023.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at the Pentagon in Washington, July 18, 2023.

"Our commitment to Israel's right to defend itself remains unwavering," Austin said in a separate statement. "Over the coming days the Department of Defense will work to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and protect civilians from indiscriminate violence and terrorism."

U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces and relationships with U.S. allies across the Middle East, likewise said it was in contact with its Israeli counterpart and was "closely tracking the situation surrounding the appalling terrorist attack."

What shape the U.S. support will take, though, is unclear.

“We stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters late Saturday, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.

“There has been a deep engagement … up and down our military chains, just regular coordination about some of the needs that Israel anticipates,” the official said. “And I am not going to get ahead of that process.”

Israel's security needs a priority

The official said the U.S. has made Israel’s security needs a priority, pointing to a $1 billion deal to help Israel restock its Iron Dome short range missile system in 2021.

The U.S. also maintains a weapons and ammunition stockpile in Israel and has made its contents available to Israel on at least two occasions.

In 2006, the U.S. granted Israel access to precision guided munitions during its war with Hezbollah. And in 2014, the U.S. gave Israel access to tank rounds and other ammunition to support operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

U.S. officials have declined to say, however, whether using the stockpile will be an option this time around.

"We will continue close consultations with the IDF regarding any requests for support they may have," according to a U.S. military official, speaking to VOA on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks. "Our focus remains on consulting with Israel and ensuring they have the support they need as a result of this abhorrent terrorist attack by Hamas."

There also are concerns about the stockpile itself. The U.S. pulled 300,000 artillery shells from the stockpile late last year and early this year to give to Ukraine.

And the types of armaments and equipment in the stockpile may not be of immediate use in pushing back Hamas fighters.

"My initial impression is that the things that Israel needs most right now are not in there," said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

"There have been concerns about what's actually in that stockpile, whether it's well maintained, whether it's the right weapons and equipment, and how frequently we practice drawing that equipment out," he noted.

In addition, the U.S. maintains some military personnel in Israel, and U.S. forces periodically conduct exercises with Israeli troops — most recently this past July.

The U.S. military official said all U.S. personnel "are safe and accounted for," without elaborating on how many are currently in the country.

Additionally, the official said there was nothing to announce as far as any changes to the force posture of the more than 30,000 U.S. troops currently stationed across the Middle East and South Asia.

Still, U.S. military and intelligence officials have expressed ongoing concern about tensions in the region, specifically pointing to Iran, which helps fund Hamas.

“What I see is a pretty brazen Iranian threat network that is willing to explore avenues for attack internationally and in the region,” National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid told an audience in Washington in January. “They are very active and intent on escalatory, a tit for tat with the Israelis, as far as we can tell.”

Assessment warned of Iran's intent

The annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, issued by the top U.S. intelligence agencies in March further warned of Iran’s intentions toward Israel.

“Iran remains a threat to Israel, both directly through its missile and UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] forces and indirectly through its support of Lebanese Hizballah, and other partners and proxies,” the report said.

The senior U.S. administration official Saturday declined to tie Tehran directly to the Hamas attack on Israel, but said, “We are going to be looking at that very closely.”

"We don't have anything to indicate Iran was involved in this specific, what is unfolding now," the official said. “That said, there's no doubt Hamas is funded, equipped, armed by Iran … Hamas would not exist without that support over many, many years.”

Iran’s foreign ministry Saturday described the Hamas attack in a statement as a “spontaneous movement of resistance groups and Palestine's oppressed people in defense of their inalienable rights,” according a report by the Reuters news agency.

Separately, an account on X, formerly known as Twitter, belonging to Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei twice posted about the attack.

“Today, the Palestinian youth and the Palestinian movement is more energetic, more alive, and more prepared than it has ever been during the last 80 years,” one post said, using a hashtag “AlAqsaStorm,” the name Hamas gave to the operation.

A second post said, “God willing, the cancer of the usurper Zionist regime will be eradicated at the hands of the Palestinian people,” and showed a video of Israelis fleeing from Hamas forces.

For now, the U.S. official said the U.S. will share any relevant intelligence with Israel but denied Washington had any advance warning of the Hamas attack.

"We have had concern about, obviously, rising tensions, particularly in the West Bank," the official said. "But in terms of the level of sophistication of what transpired overnight here and what continues to transpire, that's a very different issue."

The U.S. in recent months has surged forces to the region to push back after Iran’s naval forces embarked on a campaign of harassing and seizing commercial ships in the Persian Gulf.

Earlier this week, the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command said that surge, which included F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, a naval destroyer and an amphibious assault group that included 2,500 U.S. Marines, seemed to have deterred Iran for the moment.

"It doesn't suit their political ends right now to resort to violence," Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich told members of the Defense Writers Group in Washington. “But there's no doubt in my military mind, at least, that they would resort to that at some point in the future if they saw it as in their interests."