Transfer of $18 billion package, including F-15s, also held up

Despite Biden’s pause, billions of dollars in US arms for Israel still in pipeline

GOP senator says wide range of other munitions set to go to Israel besides withheld bombs, but laments approval process for them not as quick as it should be

Illustrative: IDF tanks are positioned in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Illustrative: IDF tanks are positioned in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

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 US President Joe Biden’s administration, which says it’s concerned the Israel Defense Forces could use them in densely populated Rafah, as is has in other parts of Gaza.

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 one million civilians have sought refuge, and as a result paused a shipment of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs to Israel.

Washington has long urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government not to invade Rafah without safeguards for civilians, seven months after Hamas’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel started the war in Gaza.

The issue has become a major point of contention between Biden and Netanyahu, who insists a ground offensive into Rafah is necessary to fulfill the war goal of removing Hamas from power following the October 7 massacre. Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition partners have demanded that the offensive go ahead, threatening to bolt the government should it instead prioritize a truce agreement freeing hostages and halting the fighting.

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.

File – Republican Sen. Jim Risch speaks to media about Israel, October 18, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)

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.

The war in Gaza was triggered by 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 252 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

The subsequent Israeli offensive, aimed at destroying Hamas and freeing the hostages, has killed some 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The figure cannot be independently verified, and is believed to include both civilians and combatants killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

Smoke billows from Israeli strikes on eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 7, 2024. (AFP)

The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7. The IDF says 267 soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.

Separately, Representative Gregory Meeks, top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, is holding up 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, though the fighter jets are not slated to be delivered for several years.

“It’s enough of the indiscriminate bombing,” Meeks charged last month. “I don’t want the kinds of weapons Israel has to be utilized to have more death. I want to make sure humanitarian aid gets in, and I don’t want people starving to death.”

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 Democratic primaries and has driven anti-Israel protests at US universities, though a recent poll showed over 70 percent of Americans overall believe Israel should launch an offensive in Rafah to defeat Hamas.

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.

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