Sullivan urges Israeli restraint on Rafah, stresses Ukraine munitions

Sullivan urges Israeli restraint on Rafah, stresses Ukraine munitions

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday urged Israel against a pending invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza and stressed the need for defense contractors to increase munitions production as the Biden administration readies an influx of new aid for Ukraine.

His remarks came after Congress passed a multi-billion-dollar aid package for both countries earlier this week and subsequent Israeli press reports that the Israel Defense Forces are preparing to move into Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians have fled.

“We have been absolutely clear about our grave concerns about an invasion of Rafah,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Defense News. “We believe there are other ways to do it than an invasion. That is what we’ve talked to the Israelis about.”

Sullivan also stressed the $95 billion foreign aid package that President Joe Biden signed into law on Wednesday will help put the U.S. grow its munitions industrial base to help Ukraine counter Russia.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t limitations on what we can do because it does take time to crank up the industrial base,” he told Defense News at White House briefing to discuss the bill. “If you think about the picture of something like 15mm ammunition, we’ve doubled our national production of 155. By the end of this year we’ll have doubled it again and then be on track to go even beyond that.”

“There are other areas where the timelines for ramp up are longer, but the arrows are all pointing in the direction of the collective west ramping up its defense industrial base.”

Sullivan said he expects the Ukraine funding “at least through the end of this year” and likely into next year.

The package includes $48 billion in Ukraine-related funding for the Pentagon, $14 billion in Israel military assistance and nearly $4 billion to arm Taiwan and Indo-Pacific allies. Biden initially asked Congress for the supplemental spending package more than six months ago following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Growing Republican resistance to a fifth round of Ukraine assistance and initial opposition from former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, significantly delayed the bill. But House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., opted to hold votes on the package earlier this month in the wake of a meeting with Trump and Iran’s attack on Israel.

After months of pressure from some congressional Democrats, Biden signed an executive memorandum in February requiring all military aid recipients – including Ukraine and Israel –to submit assurances that they will comply with international humanitarian law and U.S. human rights laws.

Under Biden’s memorandum, the Pentagon and State Department must assess Israel’s compliance with its human rights assurances in a report to Congress due May 8, with noncompliance possibly resulting in the suspension of military aid as stipulated by existing U.S. laws.

“We’ll give an updated assessment on both the question of humanitarian assistance and civilian proception and conduct of military operations,” said Sullivan. “The president has been clear and has said publicly that our policy in Gaza will be determined by Israeli conduct in Gaza and we’ll make our decisions accordingly.”

The memorandum exempts air defense systems and other defensive equipment from restrictions. The Israel military aid in Congress’ recent package includes $4 billion to replenish air defense interceptors, $4.4 billion to replenish things like air-to-ground munitions and artillery shells and $3.5 billion in Foreign Military Financing.

The Ukraine portion of the bill includes $23 billion to replenish U.S. weapons sent to Kyiv. Additionally, there’s another $13.8 billion in the bill to procure weapons contracts for Kyiv under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

The Pentagon is putting together a $1 billion package for Ukraine to transfer air defense interceptors, armored vehicles, anti-tank weapons and artillery rounds from U.S. stockpiles.

Politico also reported Thursday that the Pentagon will soon announce a $6 billion package through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, including artillery ammunition, drones, air-to-air missiles and Patriot air defense munitions.

“There is such a gap between where the collective west is and where it needs to be in terms of munitions stockpiles,” said Sullivan. “There is a need for replenishment on all of these systems that extends out years.”

“If anything, I believe that our defense industry is still underestimating, rather than overestimating, the need regardless of the precise duration or course of the war in Ukraine. And Patriot missile batteries are a great example.”

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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