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The depletion of US munitions stockpile harms Israel’s QME

The depleted stockpile potentially places Israel in a vulnerable position should a conflict arise unexpectedly.

Iron dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel, on Aug. 7, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Iron dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel, on Aug. 7, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Washington has contributed in excess of $39.7 billion in security assistance to Kyiv.

However, faced with the pressing issue of ammunition scarcity in Ukraine, the U.S. has stepped up to replenish its depleted arsenal by dipping into its own overseas munitions reserves. Interestingly, one of these stockpiles is located in Israel.

The War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel, or WRSA-I, was, until recently, relatively secret. The cache of ammunition and supplies is intended to serve as a readily-accessible reserve—an insurance policy—should Israel face a shortage during a crisis, such as occurred during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), a Washington, D.C.-based organization, has made replenishing and modernizing the WRSA-I one of its highest policy priorities. 

Blaise Misztal, VP of policy at JINSA, told JNS that the organization “is working to educate Washington about three rather obscure facts: the existence of WRSA-I; its current, depleted state; and the importance of U.S.-supplied precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Israel’s ability to deter Iran and its proxies and, therefore by extension, to U.S. security interests as well.”

The latest iteration of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) proposed by the House incorporates a crucial provision within which the Pentagon is mandated to submit a comprehensive report to Congress. Included in this report are the present inventory of PGMs within WRSA-I, the Defense Department’s strategy for replenishing the stockpile after the transfer of munitions to Ukraine and an evaluation of whether the current stockpile aligns with the legal obligation to uphold Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) as safeguarded by U.S. law.

Preserving Israel’s QME stands as a crucial goal within the U.S.-Israel relationship. The overarching objective is to safeguard Israel’s QME by ensuring it possesses the necessary resources to effectively tackle any future security threats. However, the transfer of the munitions stockpile to Ukraine has resulted in a diminished WRSA-I inventory for Israel. 

JINSA has learned that the remaining weapons stored there are virtually useless for Israel’s needs, and since 2018 has been the only organization to call for WRSA-I to be modernized and replenished with much-needed PGMs to help counter threats from Iran and/or Hezbollah.

American officials have stated repeatedly how WRSA-I helps ensure the Jewish state’s ability to defend itself. Yet, according to JINSA, “the stockpile is falling dangerously short of meeting its stated purpose. Of particular concern is the stock of PGMs, especially Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kits to convert unguided bombs. Israel will need abundant PGMs to compensate for limited defensive capabilities and prevail in an expected major war with Tehran and its proxies, all while minimizing collateral damage to civilians.”

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) has demonstrated unwavering dedication to this matter.

“Israel is one of the United States’ closest allies, and is essential to defending both regional security and upholding our shared democratic values,” he told JNS.

Panetta said the U.S. “has a responsibility to ensure Israel has access to weapons capable of defending and deterring security threats posed by Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and other regional malign actors.”

“To help Israel better meet those threats,” he said, “the U.S. must replenish our joint WRSA-I stockpile.”

Panetta told JNS his amendment to the FY24 NDAA “would require the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the House Armed Services Committee detailing the status of the United States’ strategic stockpiles and any plan to replenish these critical supplies, that are necessary to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge and the region’s security.”

According to Misztal, the Pentagon’s announcement that it was withdrawing 155mm artillery shells from WRSA-I to give to Ukraine “suddenly focused attention on the fact that this stockpile exists.”

The recent news coverage regarding the transfer of ammunition from WRSA-I to Ukraine failed to adequately emphasize the dual nature of this stockpile. It not only serves as a reserve for American use but also as a contingency resource available to Israel in times of emergency, said Misztal.

Leveraging its extensive relationships with defense establishments in both the United States and Israel, JINSA has effectively advocated for the replenishment of the stockpile with PGMs as a means to enhance Israeli security.

A depleted WRSA-I potentially places Israel in a vulnerable position should a conflict arise unexpectedly, underscoring the significance of carefully considering the implications of such actions.

For example, as a New York Times article in January noted, according to a Congressional Research Service report released in February 2022, Israel was given permission to use the stockpile in the past—once during its war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, and again during operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2014.

Israel has refocused in the last two years on expanding its military capabilities, particularly vis-à-vis Iran. The U.S. decision to withdraw munitions from WRSA-I to assist Ukraine has created a new opportunity to make the case in Washington for filling the stockpile with modern weapons that boost Israel’s capabilities.

Misztal explained that if the current legislative language regarding WRSA-I in the House version of the NDAA becomes part of the final bill, the Pentagon will have a legal obligation to produce a report to Congress.

However, while this legislation serves as a means for Congress to express its concern and interest in the matter, it does not independently compel the Department of Defense to replenish the munitions taken from the Israeli stockpile.

The forthcoming reports from the Pentagon will provide vital information about the contents of the stockpile, any planned additions, and will enable advocates for Israel to advocate for greater congressional guidance on maintaining the crucial support provided by WRSA-I to both U.S. and Israeli security. The bill requires that reports be submitted by December 1.

According to Misztal, “The most important thing right now is building support for the WRSA-I language in the NDAA, to make sure that it is included in the final version of the bill.”

Michael Makovsky, president and CEO of JINSA, has also noted that “the stockpile is falling dangerously short of meeting its stated purpose. Israel will need abundant PGMs to compensate for limited defensive capabilities and prevail in an expected major war with Tehran and its proxies, all while minimizing collateral damage to civilians.”

He said that JINSA is “making progress on this critical issue, with strong support from both Democrats and Republicans.”

“We applaud Congressman Panetta, with whom we’ve worked closely on this issue, for introducing this important provision into the NDAA, and we thank House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) for his support,” said Makovsky.

“Much work remains to be done before this provision becomes law, but JINSA will continue to work with our partners in Congress so this and other JINSA recommendations are included in this year’s NDAA.”

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