U.S. rushing air defenses, munitions to Israel, defense official says

A rocket launched from the Gaza Strip strikes an area near Sderot, southern Israel

By Phil Stewart and Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military is “surging” fresh supplies of air defenses, munitions and other security assistance to Israel to help it respond to an unprecedented weekend attack by Hamas, a senior U.S. defense official said on Monday.

“Planes have already taken off,” the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to Pentagon reporters.

“We are surging support to Israel… We remain in constant ongoing contact with our counterparts in Israel to determine and then support their most urgent requirements.”

The United States has not yet detailed the extent of Israel’s requests for security assistance. But the U.S. defense official said Washington was contacting the defense industry to expedite pending Israeli orders, and looking at the U.S. military’s own stockpiles to help fill Israeli gaps.

The official also appeared to dismiss concerns that the United States might struggle to supply Israel at the same time that it funnels weaponry to Ukraine. “We are able to continue our support both to Ukraine, to Israel, and maintain our own global readiness,” the official said.Palestinian Islamist group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on Saturday, killing hundreds of Israelis and seizing dozens of hostages. The attack led Israel to declare war, and the spiraling violence threatens to start a major new war in the Middle East.

The senior U.S. official compared the attack by Hamas to “ISIS-level savagery,” a characterization echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also said on Monday that Hamas’ attack mirrored those carried out by the jihadist group Islamic State.

U.S. President Joe Biden said at least 11 American citizens were among those killed in Israel and added U.S. citizens were likely among the Hamas hostages.

“I have directed my team to work with their Israeli counterparts on every aspect of the hostage crisis, including sharing intelligence,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

The senior U.S. defense official said there was not yet any evidence seen by the United States of Iran being behind the attack in Israel, following a report by the Wall Street Journal alleging Iranian security officials helped plan it.

“Of course, Iran is in the picture. Iran has provided support for years to the Hamas and Hezbollah. But we have no information corroborating the specifics of the Wall Street Journal story at this time,” the official said.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler and Rosalba O’Brien)

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