The Biden administration has moved forward with the sale of up to $735 million in precision-guided missiles to Israel despite attempts from progressive Democrats in Congress aimed at blocking the weapons deal.
The State Department on Friday granted the Boeing weapons manufacturer a commercial license to sell Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Small Diameter Bombs to Israel, a congressional aide told The Times of Israel, confirming a Jewish Currents report.
The State Department said it does not comment on such matters.
While the Biden administration had formally notified Congress of the sale on May 5, it was not publicized until four days later after the Washington Post broke the story.
At a subsequent meeting of Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, several progressive lawmakers claimed to have been unaware of the notification and also voiced their fierce opposition to it, according to a congressional aide. Some insisted that at the very least the sale be delayed and used as leverage to coax Israel into a ceasefire with Hamas, as the sides were then in the midst of the latest round of fighting, which ended last Thursday after 11 days.
The panel’s chairman Gregory Meeks told members he was considering penning the White House a letter asking it to delay the sale, but a day later decided against it after receiving assurances from the Biden administration that Congress would be consulted regarding the weapons deal.
However, several progressive lawmakers decided that such assurances were not enough. In the House, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Mark Pocan submitted a joint resolution of disapproval aimed at blocking the sale last Wednesday. Bernie Sanders submitted a Senate version of the measure two days later.
“At a moment when US-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate,” said Sanders, an independent who votes with Democrats, upon submitting the resolution to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The resolutions were almost certain to fail, given strong support for Israel in both the House and Senate, but they were also aimed at sparking further debate on the issue of Israel in Congress, where a growing number of Democrats have been taking a more critical stance against the longtime ally.
Unlike the recent purchase of F-35s by the UAE — which was a foreign military sale and was reportedly facing a new hurdle on Tuesday — the precision-guided missiles for Israel would be transferred as part of a direct commercial sale, where there is far less opportunity for American oversight.
Congress has never successfully blocked an arms deal through the use of a joint resolution of disapproval.
However, the resolutions never came as the Senate version was submitted on the final day of the 15-day period that Congress has to block a sale before the Biden administration is allowed to sign off. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez indicated then that Sanders’s resolution might have been introduced too late for the matter to be brought to a vote and that evidently was the case.
The White House didn’t wait a day after the 15-day grace period before authorizing the commercial license on Friday.
An aide in Sanders’s office told The Times of Israel that it was still exploring the possibility of blocking the sale — which will take years to go forward — in the weeks ahead.
Also on Tuesday, Hill-HarrisX published a poll revealing that 51% of registered American voters oppose the resolutions aimed at blocking the arms deal to Israel. Forty-nine percent said they supported the measures by progressive Democrats.
Fifty-three percent of Republican voters said they opposed the joint resolution of disapproval along with 51% of independents and 47% of Democrats.
The Hill-HarrisX poll was conducted online earlier this week with 1899 registered voters responding. It had a 2.25 percentage point margin of error.