May 24, 2024 01:15 PM

Israel due to get billions of dollars more in US weapons despite Biden pause

Sunday, May 12, 2024

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Billions of dollars worth of US weaponry remains in the pipeline for Israel, despite the delay of one shipment of bombs and a review of others by President Joe Biden’s administration, concerned their use in an assault could wreak more devastation on Palestinian civilians.

A senior US official said this week that the administration had reviewed the delivery of weapons that Israel might use for a major invasion of Rafah, a southern Gaza city where over 1 million civilians have sought refuge, and as a result paused a shipment of bombs to Israel.

Washington has long urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government not to invade Rafah without safeguards for civilians, seven months into a war that has devastated Gaza.

Congressional aides estimated the delayed bomb shipment’s value as “tens of millions” of US dollars.

A wide range of other military equipment is due to go to Israel, including joint direct attack munitions (JDAMS), which convert dumb bombs into precision weapons; and tank rounds, mortars and armored tactical vehicles, Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters.

Risch said those munitions were not moving through the approval process as quickly as they should be, noting some had been in the works since December, while assistance for Israel more typically sails through the review process within weeks.

Biden administration officials have said they are reviewing additional arms sales, and Biden warned Israel in a CNN interview on Wednesday that the US would stop supplying weapons if Israeli forces make a major invasion of Rafah.

Israel’s assault on Gaza was triggered by an 77 Oct attack by Hamas fighters, which by its tallies killed 1,200. The subsequent Israeli bombardment has killed some 35,000 Palestinians, according to local health authorities, and displaced the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

Separately, Representative Gregory Meeks, top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, has put a hold on an $18 billion arms transfer of package for Israel that would include dozens of Boeing Co. F-15 aircraft while he awaits more information about how Israel would use them.

Biden’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas has emerged as a political liability for the president, particularly among young Democrats, as he runs for re-election this year. It fueled a wave of “uncommitted” protest votes in primaries and has driven pro-Palestinian protests at US universities.

None of those weapons agreements are part of a spending package Biden signed last month that included about $26 billion to support Israel and provide humanitarian aid.

Risch and Meeks are two of the four US lawmakers – the chair and ranking member of Senate Foreign Relations and chair and ranking member on House Foreign Affairs – who review major foreign weapons deals.

‘FINGERNAILS’

Netanyahu issued a video statement on Thursday saying Israelis “would fight with their fingernails” in an apparent rebuff of Biden.

Republicans accused Biden of backing down on his commitments to Israel. “If the Commander-in-Chief can’t muster the political courage to stand up to radicals on his left flank and stand up for an ally at war, the consequences will be grave,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a Senate speech.

Ten other Senate Republicans held a press conference to announce a non-binding resolution condemning “any action by the Biden Administration to withhold or restrict weapons for Israel.”

White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Israel was still getting the weapons it needs to defend itself. “He’s (Biden’s) going to continue to provide Israel with the capabilities that it needs, all of them,” Kirby said.

Some Congressional Democrats welcomed Biden’s action.

Senator Chris Murphy, the Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Mideast subcommittee, cited concern about Rafah.

“I do not think it is our strategic or moral interest to help Israel conduct a campaign in Rafah that is likely to kill thousands of innocent civilians and not likely impact Hamas’ long-term strength in a meaningful way,” he told Reuters.

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