Top Democrats release hold on transfer of 50 F-15s

Blinken reportedly promised Netanyahu to lift restrictions on US arms shipments

Unsourced reports say PM demanded weapons deliveries return to levels from start of Gaza war; UK government data shows arms exports to Israel plunged since October 7

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, June 10, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, June 10, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly promised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would remove all restrictions on weapons transfers to Israel in the coming days.

An unsourced report — published Monday in Hebrew by Channel 12 and in German by the Bild daily — said that during their meeting last week in Jerusalem, Netanyahu demanded that the frequency of US arms shipments return to the level immediately after October 7. In contrast to the considerable military aid that the US provided at the start of the war, the situation has reversed of late, Netanyahu reportedly complained, and the US has in practice halted its military support to its ally in the war against Hamas.

Netanyahu reportedly argued that the slowing of aid plays into the hands of Iran and its proxies in the region, including Hamas and Hezbollah, extends the war and increases the risk of it broadening to new fronts.

After Blinken’s pledge, Netanyahu told Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi to make sure, during their upcoming meetings with American officials in Washington, that the arms transfers have been fully restored.

Last month, after US President Joe Biden threatened that some additional transfers would be frozen if Israel launched its planned major offensive in southern Gaza’s Rafah, Netanyahu vowed that if Israel “has to stand alone, we will stand alone.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second right) visits Kiryat Shmona on the border with Lebanon, June 5, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

At the time, the White House delayed a shipment of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs over concerns that the IDF could use them in densely populated Rafah, as it had in other parts of Gaza.

But weeks later, in a highly anticipated report to Congress, the Biden administration said it found “credible and reliable” Israeli assurances that it will use US weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law, allowing for the further transfer of American arms amid Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

Later Monday, the Washington Post reported that two key Democrats have agreed to support a major arms sale to Israel that includes 50 F-15 fighter jets.

Rep. Gregory Meeks and Sen. Ben Cardin have signed off on the deal under heavy pressure from the Biden administration after the two lawmakers had for months held up the sale, the Post reported.

“Any issues or concerns Chair Cardin had were addressed through our ongoing consultations with the administration, and that’s why he felt it appropriate to allow this case to move forward,” Eric Harris, communications director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Post in a statement.

Meeks told the paper that he had been in close contact with the White House and had urged them to pressure Israel over humanitarian efforts and civilian casualties. He said the F-15s would not be delivered until “years from now.”

The US has long been by far the largest arms supplier to its closest Middle East ally, followed by Germany — whose strong support for Israel reflects in part atonement for the Nazi Holocaust — and Italy.

Some countries, such as Italy, Canada and the Netherlands, have halted arms shipments to Israel this year over concerns they could be used in ways violating international humanitarian law — causing civilian casualties and destruction of residential areas — in Gaza.

Israel says it does not target civilians and that the operation is focused on eliminating Hamas. It has provided overwhelming evidence that Hamas embeds itself among the civilian population and uses civilian infrastructure to store its weapons.

While Germany approved arms exports to Israel worth 326 million euros ($350 million) last year, 10 times more than in 2022, the volume of approvals fell to around 10 million euros in the first quarter of this year.

Illustrative – Israel Defense Forces tanks take position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 6, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Meanwhile, new figures from British authorities on Monday showed that the United Kingdom’s approval of arms export licenses to Israel dropped sharply after the start of the war in Gaza, with the value of permits granted for the sale of military equipment to its ally falling by more than 95 percent to a 13-year low.

The figures, which have not previously been reported, are based on information provided by government officials to Reuters and data from the Department for Business and Trade’s Export Control unit.

While the US and Germany initially increased arms sales to Israel after the start of the war with Hamas, the value of British-approved licenses between October 7 and December 31 last year dropped to 859,381 pounds ($1.09 million), UK government officials told Reuters. That is the lowest figure for the period since 2010.

This compares with the British government approving 20 million pounds ($25 million) of arms sales to Israel for the same period in 2022, including small arms ammunition and components for combat aircraft, according to government data.

In the same period in 2017, the government approved 185 million pounds ($235 million) in arms sales to Israel, including components for tanks and surface-to-air missiles, the data shows, the highest figure for the period in publicly available data going back to 2008.

Unlike the US, Britain’s government does not give arms directly to Israel but rather issues licenses for companies to sell weapons, with input from lawyers on whether they comply with international law.

Troops are seen operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo cleared for publication on June 14, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Many of the licenses approved in the period after the start of the war in Gaza were for items listed for “commercial use” or non-lethal items such as body armor, military helmets or all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection.

Reuters could not establish if the fall in the value of approved licenses for Israel was because of a decision by Britain to restrict the sale of certain items, or because there was a drop in demand from Israel.

The Department for Business and Trade, which is responsible for approving the export licenses, and the Foreign Office declined to comment. Israel’s embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment.

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 251 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

Vowing to destroy the terror group and free the hostages, of whom 116 remain in captivity, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza, which the Hamas-run health ministry says more than 37,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead. The toll, which cannot be verified and does not differentiate between civilians and fighters, includes some 15,000 combatants Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October.

A total of 311 troops have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. The toll includes a police officer killed in a hostage rescue mission. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: