State Department confirms new review on Israel arms

But spokeswoman denies White House was blindsided by Pentagon weapons sale and nixed transfer of Hellfire missiles

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Illustrative photo of Hellfire missiles (photo credit: CC BY-Wikipedia)
Illustrative photo of Hellfire missiles (photo credit: CC BY-Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON — The State Department confirmed Thursday that weapons shipments to Israel would be undergoing additional review due to the war in Gaza, but denied reports that the Pentagon had engaged in weapons transfers to Israel behind the back of the White House and State Department.

State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said that she “strongly disagrees with the notion that some of us didn’t know what was going on.”

She said that, “to her knowledge,” there had not been any unauthorized weapons transfers between the Pentagon to Israel, and that she did not hear that anyone had been “caught off-guard” by such transfers.

Harf described an inter-agency process, including the Pentagon, White House and State Department, to review such transfers, and said that she “would disagree” with a report Thursday in the Wall Street Journal to the effect that the State Department and White House were “surprised” that the Pentagon continued to provide weapons to Israel.

In its report, the Wall Street Journal said that the White House and State Department were angered by a transfer of Hellfire missiles to Israel and had blocked the delivery of a batch of Hellfire precision missiles as well as ordering greater oversight into future sales. At one point during her briefing, Harf said that she was not sure whether any transfers of Hellfire missiles were delayed or blocked, but later said that she was certain that no weapons transfers were being withheld or delayed.

A senior Israeli official had confirmed that the shipment of Hellfire missiles was canceled.

The State Department spokesperson worked to downplay the scale and implications of the additional review. “As I have said many times, the US has an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” Harf asserted, citing President Barack Obama’s recent approval of an additional funding package for the Iron Dome missile defense project.

“There has been no change in policy” regarding Israel’s security assistance, Harf insisted. She added, however, that given the situation, it is natural that there would be “additional care” taken in the review process. She emphasized that “additional steps” were not tantamount to an official “review” of US military aid for Israel.

“It’s not an unusual step,” Harf said, claiming that she was surprised by the attention given to the process. She said that she was not aware of when the additional review process would be put in place. “The general principle is that when there is an ongoing crisis or conflict in which we are providing weapons, we would take an additional look at it,” she said.

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