ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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US State Dept. approves sale of thousands of tank rounds to Israel

Deal for 14,000 shells worth more than $106 million bypasses Congress amid stalled aid package talks

An IDF tank operating in Gaza, in a photo released by the Israeli military on October 31, 2023. (IDF Spokesperson)
An IDF tank operating in Gaza, in a photo released by the Israeli military on October 31, 2023. (IDF Spokesperson)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Going around Congress, the Biden administration said Saturday it has approved the emergency sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million as Israel intensifies its military operations in the southern Gaza Strip.

The move comes as us President Joe Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security is languishing in Congress, caught up in a debate over US immigration policy and border security. Some Democratic lawmakers have spoken of making the proposed $14.3 billion in American assistance to its Mideast ally contingent on concrete steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza during the war with Hamas.

The State Department said it had notified Congress of the sale late Friday after Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined “an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale” of the munitions in the US national security interest.

That means the purchase will bypass the congressional review requirement for foreign military sales. Such determinations are rare, but not unprecedented, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability. This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives,” the department said in a statement. “Israel will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense.”

The sale is worth $106.5 million and includes 13,981 120-mm High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer tank cartridges as well as US support, engineering and logistics. The materiel will come from Army inventory.

Bypassing Congress with emergency determinations for arms sales is an unusual step that has in the past met resistance from lawmakers, who normally have a period of time to weigh proposed weapons transfers and, in some cases, block them.

An IDF army tank rolls in a field in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 8, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Jack Guez / AFP)

In May, 2019, then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo made an emergency determination for an $8.1 billion sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan after it became clear that the Trump administration would have trouble overcoming lawmakers’ concerns about the Saudi- and UAE-led war in Yemen.

Pompeo came under heavy criticism for the move, which some believed may have violated the law because many of the weapons involved had yet to be built and could not be delivered urgently. But he was cleared of any wrongdoing after an internal investigation.

At least four administrations have used the authority since 1979. US president George H.W. Bush’s administration used it during the Gulf War to get arms quickly to Saudi Arabia.

War erupted after 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

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