Biden Advances $1 Billion In Arms For Israel Amid Rafah Tensions

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The Biden administration informally notified congressional committees Tuesday that it planned to move forward with more than $1 billion in weapons deals for Israel, said U.S. officials familiar with the matter, a major transfer of lethal aid that comes a week after the White House paused a single shipment of bombs because of concerns that a planned assault in southern Gaza could cause immense civilian casualties.

The arms deals allow for the potential transfer of $700 million in tank ammunition, $500 million in tactical vehicles and $60 million in mortar rounds, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

The decision underscores the administration’s reluctance to defy pro-Israel donors in the Democratic Party who criticized Biden’s decision last week to withhold the shipment, which included controversial 2,000-pound bombs that have been involved in mass casualty events in Gaza.

It is also the latest indication that attacks by Republicans asserting that Biden had imposed an “arms embargo” on Israel, a charge spearheaded by Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.), bore little connection to reality.

A U.S. official told The Washington Post that “arms transfers are proceeding as scheduled” and referred to comments from national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday that the United States is “continuing to send military assistance.”

The notification, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, went out to the relevant committees in the House and Senate in a step called “tiered review” that occurs before the formal notification of Congress.

Critics say Biden’s decision to advance the arms package undercuts Washington’s effort to restrain Israel’s military actions in Lebanon and Gaza, where it is pushing for a more targeted approach.

Israeli officials have vowed to launch a major invasion into southern Gaza aimed at eliminating four Hamas battalions in the border city of Rafah.

The Biden administration has warned that the operation is likely to cause enormous civilian casualties and block desperately needed aid to the entire enclave, which is experiencing famine in some areas.

It will do “terrible harm to civilians,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday, and fail to eradicate Hamas. “There will still be thousands of armed Hamas left,” he said.

Even though the shipments in the latest arms packages would not arrive imminently, critics say advancing the packages sends a message to Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that they can defy U.S. warnings about invading Rafah and not have to worry about the United States replenishing the munitions at a later date.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a White House ally, criticized the decision, saying, “We should not be proceeding with any additional offensive arms transfers until the United States receives clear assurances from the Netanyahu government that the president’s concerns regarding Rafah have been addressed and his demands for the delivery of humanitarian assistance have been met.”

“This move undercuts the president’s earlier decision and should not go forward,” he said.

Still, many Republicans and many Democrats have been supportive of U.S. arms transfers to Israel.

In seeking to explain Washington’s position on Monday, Sullivan said, “We have paused a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs because we do not believe they should be dropped in densely populated cities.”

Sullivan underscored that the Biden administration has “sent a massive amount of military assistance to Israel to defend itself against all threats, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran and its other proxies. We are continuing to send military assistance.”

(c) 2024, The Washington Post · John Hudson 


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