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Washington Wednesday: Supporting Israel with treasure, not blood


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: Supporting Israel with treasure, not blood

President Biden pledges military aid to Israel and ongoing support to Ukraine

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder holds a press conference at the Pentagon. Getty Images/Photo by Kevin Dietsch

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 25th of October, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

First up, support for Israel and Ukraine.

The US and its allies have of course been backing Kyiv against Russia for more than a year.

EICHER: But two weeks ago, a key U.S. ally came under attack. The Iran-backed terror group Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into Israel … carried out unspeakable attacks on the ground against Israeli citizens … and took hostages.

BROWN: Last week, President Biden made the case that it is in America’s national security interests to ensure that both Israel and Ukraine win their wars.

BIDEN: Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they both share this in common. They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.

EICHER: Joining us now to talk about these threats is retired Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery. He served as policy director for the Senate Armed Services Committee back when Senator John McCain was chairman.

And he served more than three decades in the Navy as a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer.

BROWN: Admiral, good morning!

MARK MONTGOMERY, GUEST: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

BROWN: It’s good to have you. Well, let’s start with American assistance to Israel. The Pentagon recently sent military advisors to help Israeli commanders prepare for a large-scale ground invasion of Gaza. What kind of advice and guidance Do you suppose the Pentagon might be providing?

MONTGOMERY: Well, I think this is part of a broad effort by the United States to assist Israel. But that one component that you're mentioning here is very important. And that's the idea that a number of our general officers and our senior enlisted personnel have multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and particularly in Iraq, in dense urban fighting against a terrorist organization, pretty much what we're describing in Gaza, particularly Gaza City, and Hamas, which is a terrorist organization. And so we have more recent experience, you know, between 2003 and 2020, for some of these military officers, whereas the Israelis left Gaza in 2005. So while they have a very skilled military, and I would put their military on a person per person basis, you know, in the top three or four in the world, you know, alongside the United States, but they don't have this recent experience in urban environment. So I think that's why those advisors are there. I wouldn't overstate their value their of their value, that is not going to be the discriminator in success for the Israelis or not, that's going to be having a well thought out battle plan that gets them in and gets them out with a theory of victory, something we didn't properly have in Iraq in 2003, or, you know, in Afghanistan at any time, over the 20 years, we were there.

BROWN: Along with those advisors, the United States has dispatched multiple aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean in support of Israel. Explain to us in practical terms, what the purpose was for dispatching those carrier groups.

MONTGOMERY: Myrna, thanks for the opportunity to answer that. In fact, I was a carrier strike group commander a few years ago, for two years, and they have very specific capabilities, many of which are misconstrued in the media. Look, there's two reasons that that is there, in my opinion: number one is a strong signal. There's a strike projection capability inherent in the carrier air wing and the missiles in the and the accompanying destroyers that could impose cost on Iran. So the number one reason they're there is a strong signal to Iran, do not expand this war, do not have your second group of proxies in Lebanon, which is known as Hezbollah and initiate combat operations in the in the north of Israel. And that's when the President, you know, looked at the camera a week ago and said "Don't," what he was saying right there was to the Iranian leadership, don't press this war any further, don't open a second front. And he's moved some of our strongest signals that are not just the two carrier strike groups, but we now have six Air Force squadrons stationed throughout the Middle East. 

The second reason you'd have a carrier strike group there, it's very specifically the the escort ships are known as cruisers and destroyers. They have a system known as the Aegis weapon system that has ballistic missile defense capabilities. Those are very good against Iranian intermediate range ballistic missiles. And while the Israelis have a system called Arrow to protect themselves, there's some question as to whether or not it's thick enough, do they have enough capacity to hold off the Iranian ballistic missile attack? Well, once you introduce the U.S. weapon systems on a on a number of destroyers and cruisers at least three or four at each of these carrier strike groups, now you have thick enough a system and the Iranians can't really present that kind of like intermediate range ballistic missile threat to Israel. So two good reasons to put carrier strike groups in the eastern Mediterranean, or as we're going to see with the Eisenhower strike group is going to go through the Suez and pop out in the North Arabian Sea and be very close to Iran to again, send a strong signal from the President.

BROWN: Before I go on, let me just also say thank you so much for your service. Let's shift now to Ukraine. Supporting Kyiv has become more controversial, at least among Republicans on Capitol Hill. Admiral, what is your assessment of how that war is going? Is either side winning right now?

MONTGOMERY: It is a tough war. Look, are the Ukrainians winning? Yes, because a major power, the second strongest country in the world, in theory, invaded them without notice, you know, 18 months ago, and they blocked the invasion. And between Belarus and Russia, they, you know, surround, you know, 60% of Ukraine, and Ukraine was able to fend them off. That's a win. Now, look, are they winning in their current counter offensive? That's harder to say, I think they've achieved a few of their goals. I don't know, they certainly haven't achieved all the goals they wanted. Our assistance was absolutely crucial to any success they've had. But our failure to provide assistance at the right time and speed has also been critical to some of their failures. We need to get them the systems they they are judged themselves to need, like F-16s, tanks, ATACMS, or cluster munitions. As you go back over the last 10 months, we've been slow to deliver what the Ukrainians asked for. And in the end, we realized they needed exactly what they asked for. So I wish we'd be faster about that. 

But I want to be clear, without the leadership--and, you know, I was uncomfortable with how President Biden handled the withdrawal from Afghanistan, I think he did a poor job, and that, I think his team led him down and he made some bad decisions, but his decision making on Ukraine has been correct. It was a place where we can invest treasure and not blood. And we've achieved a lot there in terms of protecting a beleaguered democracy and Ukraine, rallying our European partners to the cause who have been feckless on occasion, prior to this, and making sure that President Zelenskyy was portrayed as who he really is, which is a fearless Democratic leader, and not this crazy Russian, you know, meme of him being some kind of Nazi puppet. And so I really appreciate what the President's done here. I think we do need to bring the rest of this money to them this year. I hope the I think the majority of the Republicans in the House support it, the majority the Democrats support it. So it should be able to pass a fair vote in the House, I know to pass a fair vote in the Senate. And the President can sign it and get them their support. 

But I want to make clear that Vladamir Putin is an evil, evil man, and he he runs an autocratic state that tries to impose its will illegitimately on its neighbors, and finally, someone stood up to him. And you know, when someone stands up to the bully like that, it's our job, because we have the assets to do it, to support them with treasure and not blood.

BROWN: Final question here. President Biden also made the point last week that the United States has been shipping to Ukraine weapons and ammunition from US stockpiles, and then replacing it with new equipment. I'd like you to explain that in practical terms. So when we send weapons and ammo to either Ukraine or Israel, how does that work? And are we able to quickly and sufficiently replace those supplies?

MONTGOMERY: So that's a great question because it is kind of confusing. There's two basic ways they get equipment from from the United States. The first is the fast way that's called Presidential Drawdown Authority. He says to the army, provide them 30 M1A1 tanks, and 30 M1A1 tanks would go through a process and they're shipped and they show up in in Germany, they get trained on them, they move to Ukraine. Same things happen for artillery shells for all kinds of things that are inside the army; the army then gets the money to buy replacements. So this has led to the modernization of the U.S. Army. If you go and look at their at their stockpiles. Now this presidential Drawndown Authority has allowed, you know, the modernization of the javelins, the artillery, the tanks, those things are now flowing back. And by the way, that 20 to $30 billion in Presidential Drawdown Authority is money spent only in the United States at U.S. factories, building these replacement items that would otherwise not have been built, big time jobs and growth in these factories. So that's the first, Presidential Drawdown Authority. The second one, when we don't have it or the army is like we can't give any more away, we need to preserve this for our warfighting capability, we do something called the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. That money then goes directly to, say, Lockheed Martin to build you know, whatever missile we need, or to Raytheon or to-- but only to U.S. companies to build systems in America, again, producing jobs in America to send the gear to Ukraine. That's what's happening there.

And I'll tell you one other way, when someone gives U.S. gear from, say, Estonia gives some and then they need to rebuy back, they're buying back from that same U.S. factory. So in reality, U.S. factories are also participating in the rearming of Eastern Europe and a few Western European countries, but particularly in Eastern Europe. They have U.S. gear that they're giving now. They originally gave some former Soviet gear, now this U.S. gear, so bottom line is, it is really a healthy story for the U.S. Army, for U.S. Defense industrial base and for Ukraine.

BROWN: Retired Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Admiral, thanks so much!

MONTGOMERY: Thank you both for having me.

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