Report: US quietly approved more than 100 arms sales to Israel since October 7

Congressional approval not required as each sale fell below threshold; Biden said to mull barring US weapons from being used in Rafah op, as some lawmakers urge conditioning aid

Displaced Palestinians carry their belongings through a street in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 6, 2024. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinians carry their belongings through a street in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 6, 2024. (AFP)

The United States has approved and delivered on more than 100 arms sales to Israel since October 7, US officials recently told Congress in a classified briefing, according to a Washington Post report on Wednesday.

Citing unnamed US officials, the report said the sales included thousands of precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs and other weapons. They did not need to first be approved by Congress as the cost of each sale fell below the minimum amount that would require them to be considered, according to the report.

Speaking to the Washington Post, former Biden administration official Jeremy Konyndyk said that the “extraordinary number of sales over the course of a pretty short amount of time” suggests that Israel would not be able to maintain its operation against Hamas in Gaza “without this level of US support.” Konyndyk is the current president of Refugees International and has called on the US to use weapons sales to pressure Israel to accept a ceasefire in Gaza.

State Department spokesman Matt Miller told the Washington Post that the Biden administration has “followed the procedures Congress itself has specified to keep members well-informed, and regularly briefs members even when formal notification is not a legal requirement.”

US officials have “engaged Congress” on arms deliveries to Israel “more than 200 times” since October, Miller said.

The report said a senior State Department official declined to provide the total number of all US weapons transferred to Israel, or their costs, since October 7, but said they include new sales and “active” foreign military sales or FMSs.

US President Joe Biden attends a meeting of his Competition Council in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2024. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

“These are items that are typical for any modern military, including one that is as sophisticated as Israel’s,” the official said.

Separately, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote Wednesday that the US is apparently considering taking steps to prevent Israel from using American arms on a planned offensive in the southern Gazan city of Rafah — where over half of the Gaza Strip’s population has fled to during the war.

The US has said Israel must show it has a plan to protect civilians when it launches a ground offensive in the Strip’s southernmost city. Israel has said it will evacuate the residents but has yet to approve the military’s operational plan or publicly announce where civilians will go.

Ignatius wrote that US President Joe Biden and other officials “haven’t made any decision about imposing ‘conditionality’ on US weapons. But the very fact that officials seem to be debating this extreme step shows the administration’s growing concern about the crisis in Gaza.”

“If Israel launches an offensive in Rafah without adequately protecting the displaced civilian population, it may precipitate an unprecedented crisis in US-Israel relations, even involving arms supplies,” former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk was quoted as saying in the column.

Lawmakers call for conditional aid

The Biden administration faced growing calls from his fellow Democrats on Wednesday to push Israel to ease the devastating humanitarian crisis, with some saying they may try to stop congressionally approved military assistance if conditions for civilians do not improve.

“We need to use all the leverage we’ve got. The administration has not used the leverage it has to date. I don’t know how many more kids have to starve before we use all the levers of our influence here, but they really need to do more,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters.

Van Hollen and other lawmakers have called upon the administration to hold back military assistance to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government does not take steps such as opening crossings into Gaza for aid shipments.

Eight-feet-tall steel fencing is put up around the US Capitol the day before US President Joe Biden is to deliver the State of the Union address in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2024 . (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Israel says it does not restrict humanitarian or medical aid and has blamed the lack of deliveries on the capacity of aid agencies, repeatedly saying that it is approving more aid trucks for crossing than the agencies are able to deliver.

Trucks carrying aid into Gaza have intermittently been held up by Israeli protesters demonstrating against sending humanitarian aid to the Strip while hostages remained in Hamas captivity.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The administration has so far declined to put conditions on assistance for Israel.

“How many more homes and shops and schools and child-care centers and hospitals must be destroyed before we say to Prime Minister Netanyahu: Enough?” Democratic Senator Pete Welch said in a Senate speech on Tuesday.

The comments came as Biden prepared to make his annual State of the Union address in Congress, when he lays out policy priorities to his largest television audience of the year.

Some voters — particularly Muslim Americans — have been responding with protest votes in primary races as Biden runs for re-election in November by marking their ballots “uncommitted.”

Van Hollen noted that US law bars weapons sales to countries that block humanitarian aid, and said he and other lawmakers may try to block new weapons sales to Israel if its government does not address the crisis.

The US Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop a foreign major weapons sale by passing a resolution of disapproval. Although no such resolution has both passed Congress and survived a presidential veto, an angry debate on the issue could embarrass the White House.

A masked member of the “People’s Protection Committees” controls traffic in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah on March 6, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Washington also has briefed Israel on a new national security memorandum that reminds countries receiving US weapons to stick to international law.

Separately, dozens of House of Representatives Democrats released a letter to Biden on Wednesday expressing “our deep sense of urgency and alarm” about the hardships faced by civilians in Gaza.

War erupted after Hamas’s devastating onslaught on southern Israel on October 7 in which the terrorists murdered 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 253 others hostage to Gaza.

Israel launched an offensive aimed at eliminating the terror group, which has ruled the since 2007, and returning the captives.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said more than 30,000 people have been killed since October 7. The terror group’s figures are unverified, do not differentiate between civilians and combatants, and list all the fatalities as caused by Israel — even those caused by hundreds of misfired rockets or otherwise by Palestinian fire.

Israel has said it has killed some 13,000 Hamas members in Gaza fighting, in addition to some 1,000 killed in Israel in the aftermath of the terror group’s October 7 invasion.

The offensive in Gaza has displaced most of the enclave’s 2.3 million people and led to critical shortages of food, water and medicine.

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