Russia is set to benefit from the Israel-Hamas conflict, as Israel’s requests for US military aid risk diverting weapons and focus from Ukraine while the rising price of oil bolsters Moscow’s economy.
US and NATO allies have rebuffed concerns about their ability to continue supporting Ukraine militarily in the aftermath of Gaza-based militant group Hamas’s attack on Israel, which already receives billions in aid from Washington every year.
Yet there is a clear understanding in the Kremlin that the war between Israel and Hamas will work in Russia’s favour, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. The conflict may, at the very least, work to distract US and European attention from the war in Ukraine, the people said, even while Russia has concerns about its escalation.
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President Vladimir Putin’s objectives “will be achieved faster” if a US focus on the Israel conflict results in the slowdown of arms deliveries to Kyiv, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on October 9 at a news conference, after talks with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “But they will be achieved in any case.”
Pressure on arms supplies
For the most part, there is no major overlap between Israel and Ukraine’s military asks, and Tel Aviv’s existing supplies are relatively robust in light of years of stockpiling, officials and experts say. Israel is seeking Iron Dome missiles, precision-guided munitions, and artillery rounds from the US, according to a person familiar with the matter, as it readies its next response to Hamas’s attack.
But the pressure on supplies could increase if Israel launches a ground war into the Gaza strip, as is expected.
“That’s when they’ll start using munitions in a big way—precision munitions—and they’ll probably use a lot of them,” said Mark Cancian, a former US Marine colonel who is now an adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. While they already have big stocks, he said, “they may not have enough for a long campaign.”
Mass and rapid mobilisation also means the Israeli military is stretched for equipment, leaving some troops with older items, Richard Hecht, a spokesman and lieutenant-colonel, told journalists on October 10.
The conflict in Israel is expected to be discussed on the margins of a NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels on October 11 and 12 where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is also attending. Ahead of the gathering, Kyiv’s allies will also discuss weapons deliveries at their monthly Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting.
Zelenskyy “will be reminding us all not only why it’s very important that we still maintain this battle, and show that they can so that Putin doesn’t win, but also don’t get distracted by the wider issues”, UK Secretary of Defence Grant Shapps told ITV from Brussels. “The war in Europe as well is absolutely at the forefront of our minds.”
Ukraine and Russia have been burning through thousands of pieces of ammunition per day in what has become a grinding war of attrition. Those unguided munitions will not be as useful for Israel in an urban warfare setting, where they will instead lean on precision munitions to target specific oncoming fire, according to Cancian. But Ukraine also needs more of those sophisticated weapons as it seeks to hit targets like Russian military bases behind the front lines.
“The problem is we can’t manufacture any more in a short period of time,” Cancian said, adding that might require the US to pull them from existing inventories, which are already getting low. Even if the US did not stop deliveries to Ukraine, it might slow those shipments down, “which means they could only shoot at the highest-priority targets,” he added.
A senior US defence official said that although the US will continue to provide a significant amount of support to Ukraine, it is careful about ensuring it can also respond to other crises.
A senior western diplomat said they were not worried about the impact on the war in Ukraine, partly because the Israeli military is itself capable and well-equipped. The diplomat said they were confident the US would be able to continue to support Israel without it having a material effect on what they are doing for Ukraine.
Other analysts are more sceptical. “Given a choice between Israel and Ukraine, the US would—in a heartbeat—choose Israel,” Chatham House CEO Bronwen Maddox told Bloomberg TV in an interview, even if it is not facing such an acute decision at present. “I can understand why President Zelenskyy might be worried—and he was already battling to retain American attention.”
Future US aid for Ukraine was called into question after Congress dropped assistance for Kyiv from a short-term spending package passed to avert a government shutdown. Future funding could be on even shakier ground now, as the conflict in Israel emboldens Republican lawmakers skeptical of support for Ukraine.
Putin told the annual Valdai Club meeting in Russia’s Sochi on October 5 that US and European support was keeping Ukraine afloat financially and militarily. If weapons deliveries “were discontinued tomorrow, they would have just one week to go until they used up all their ammunition”, he said.
Europe’s backing for Ukraine has also suffered perturbations in recent weeks after a spat between Poland and Ukraine culminated in a threat by Warsaw to cut off new aid to Kyiv. The bloc’s stance on aid for Ukraine also faces a challenge from Robert Fico, a Russian sympathiser, who is set to return to power in Slovakia.
The Israel-Hamas conflict’s impact on the price of oil could also boost Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. The price of oil edged lower on October 10, after fears that the conflict could embroil major energy producers in the region such as Iran and Saudi Arabia had earlier propelled US crude futures above $87 a barrel.
“As oil prices go up, this enables them to continue spending on arms production and it also helps them cover some budget deficits,” said Ann Marie Dailey, a policy researcher at Rand Corporation. “Russia absolutely gains an advantage from this in the short-term.”