White House: Meeting moved due to scheduling conflict

US denies report it canceled talks in DC over Netanyahu’s complaint of weapons holdup

Some Israeli officials said to have been en route when Thursday meeting called off; in video, Netanyahu accused US of withholding arms transfers, sparking White House irritation

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The White House on Wednesday denied reports in US and Israeli media that it had canceled high-level talks between American and Israeli security officials in Washington.

According to Axios and several Hebrew outlets, a meeting to discuss threats from Iran and Hezbollah was canceled after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video on social media berating the Biden administration for supposed holdups in the supply of arms to Israel.

By canceling the meeting, the US intended to send a message to Netanyahu that such public criticism was unacceptable, according to Axios. “This decision makes it clear that there are consequences for pulling such stunts,” one US official was quoted as saying.

A senior Israeli official quoted in the report added, “The Americans are fuming. [Netanyahu’s] video made a lot of damage.”

But the White House later issued a firm denial, saying that the meeting that Axios described as canceled had merely been moved due to a scheduling conflict.

“As we said in the briefing yesterday, we have no idea what the prime minister is talking about, but that’s not a reason for rescheduling a meeting,” a White House official told The Times of Israel.

From left to right: Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi at the State Department in Washington on March 7, 2023. (Antony Blinken/Twitter)

“We have been working to find a time to schedule the next Strategic Dialogue Group (SDG) that accounts for the travel and availability of principals, but have not yet fully finalized the details so nothing has been canceled,” the official continued. “In the meantime, meetings with Israeli officials are being held throughout the week at expert and senior levels on a range of topics.”

Aiming to further lower tensions amid the reported cancellation, Netanyahu’s office tweeted that US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew informed the premier on Tuesday that the weapons Netanyahu claimed were being held up are actually “in the process of being delivered to Israel.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu said he expects this to happen and instructed Israeli teams to work with their American counterparts to that end,” the PMO said.

A US embassy spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel that Lew and Netanyahu spoke a day earlier.

“With the exception of ongoing discussion regarding large diameter munitions, other items are either delivered or in the process of being delivered, or in the normal review process,” said the spokesperson.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi is still slated to travel to Washington this week to meet his American counterpart Jake Sullivan, according to an Israeli official.

But Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer were also hoping to hold an SDG meeting this week, which Axios said was canceled and which the White House said had never been finalized.

In the English-language video, posted Tuesday, Netanyahu assailed the United States for what he said was the intentional withholding of arms for Israel’s war against the Iran-backed Hamas terror group in Gaza. The war began on October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists invaded southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking 251 hostages.

“It’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel,” Netanyahu said in the video. “Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.”

“During World War II, [UK leader Winston] Churchill told the United States, ‘Give us the tools, we’ll do the job,’” the prime minister continued. “And I say, give us the tools and we’ll finish the job a lot faster.”

The White House rejected Netanyahu’s account of weapons holdups, telling reporters that one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs was under review due to concerns about their use in the crowded southern Gazan city of Rafah, but that all other weapons shipments were moving as planned.

A US AFCENT F-15 fighter jet is seen at the Nevatim Airbase, January 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We genuinely do not know what [Netanyahu] is talking about. We just don’t,” said Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday.

In the video, Netanyahu said that he had raised the issue of munitions holdups with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit to Israel last week and that the American diplomat had assured him “the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks.”

Unsourced reports in Hebrew and German media also reported that Blinken had promised to lift all restrictions on weapons transfers.

Asked to confirm Netanyahu’s account, Blinken demurred, telling reporters, “I’m not going to talk about what we said in diplomatic conversations.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House has not moved ahead with the sale of 50 F-15 fighter jets despite Congressional support for such a move.

The State Department was expected to formally notify Congress of the $18 billion sale after two top Democrats removed their objections last month but hasn’t yet done so.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) is seen boarding a two-seater F-15 fighter jet at the Tel Nof Airbase in central Israel, June 5, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The State Department told WSJ that there is no policy of slowing down weapons transfers. “We are looking tactically at the timing. It is not a question of whether,” said an official. “It is a question of when.”

The canceled meetings in Washington, which would have been the first high-level, in-depth talks between US and Israeli officials about the Iranian nuclear program since March 2023, were set for Thursday.

The strategic dialogue was set to include hours of meetings between officials from the US State Department, Pentagon, and intelligence agencies with their Israeli counterparts. Some Israeli officials were already en route to Washington when the meetings were canceled, Axios reported.

Iran has been ratcheting up its enrichment of uranium in recent months and barring International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from visiting its nuclear sites, drawing censure from the Group of Seven last week, as well as the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors.

Iran also backs the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which has fired daily barrages of rockets, missiles, and explosive-laden drones at northern Israel since Hamas’s October attack, saying it is doing so in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

The daily exchanges, which have resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of people from both northern Israel and southern Lebanon, have escalated in recent months, but have not erupted into a full-scale war, a scenario the US sent special envoy Amos Hochstein to the region this week in an attempt to stave off.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein in Jerusalem, June 17, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The senior diplomat met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, as well as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and leaders of the opposition. On Tuesday, he conducted similar meetings in Beirut.

It is the second time a US-Israel dialogue has been canceled over diplomatic tensions this year, after Netanyahu canceled a meeting in March over Israel’s planned military offensive in Rafah, in protest of the US’s abstention on a United Nations Security Council resolution that Israel opposed.

The resolution called for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and for the immediate unconditional release of all hostages; it did not make its call for a ceasefire conditional on a hostage release, and it did not condemn Hamas.

That meeting was later held virtually, after Israel asked the White House to reschedule it, two days after the cancellation.

The US has long been by far the largest arms supplier to Israel, followed by Germany and Italy.

Some countries, such as Italy, Canada and the Netherlands, have halted arms shipments to Israel this year citing the toll that Israel’s offensive has taken on Gazan civilians and concerns that the weapons could be used in contravention of international law.

Troops of the IDF’s Givati Brigade operate in the Yabna camp of southern Gaza’s Rafah, June 18, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

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

Last month, after 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.”

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 would use US weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law, allowing for the continued transfer of American arms amid Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

The Biden administration has consistently rejected calls from some progressive lawmakers to halt weapons shipments to Israel altogether, and has defended Israel’s war against Hamas, citing the group’s atrocities on October 7, its vows to repeat the attack, and its continued holding of some 115 hostages, including children, babies and elderly people.

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