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Sanders introduces resolution to halt $735 million arms sale to Israel

Motion unlikely to pass given strong support for Jewish state in Congress

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 25, 2021, examining wages at large profitable corporations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 25, 2021, examining wages at large profitable corporations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

US Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday submitted a resolution to block the $735 million sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel as pressure mounted in the Democratic Party for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The joint resolution of disapproval (JRD) — similar to the House version submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday — is almost certain not to pass, given strong support for Israel in both the House and Senate, but the legislation will spark 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.

“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 submitted the resolution to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The top panel’s chair, Sen. Bob Menendez, said he opposed the measure and added that he was not certain the JRD could be brought to a vote as it was filed on the last of 15 days where Congress can still block the sale before US President Joe Biden is allowed to sign off.

Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees backed the $735 million purchase during an informal review before May 5 — five days before the fighting in Gaza began.

While Biden has backed Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rocket fire, progressive Democrats have claimed the White House position has given Israel a blank check to continue airstrikes in Gaza, even as the civilian toll climbed.

After the Washington Post broke the story about the sale of precision-guided missiles on Sunday, those Democrats jumped on the opportunity, calling at the very least to use a delay of the sale as leverage to push a ceasefire.

The JRD is a step further than a letter requesting a delay in the weapons sale that House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Gregory Meeks told members of the panel earlier this week that he was considering. Ultimately, Meeks decided against the move after receiving assurances from the White House that it would keep Congress in the loop about the sale.

Unlike the recent purchase of F-35s by the UAE, which was a foreign military sale, 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 the JRD.

Later on Thursday, Israel’s security cabinet approved an Egyptian offer for a ceasefire, likely burying the effort to block the arms sale.

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