Lapid: Irresponsible PM deeply harming Israel's standing

US vexed, disappointed by Netanyahu claim of arms holdup: ‘No one has done more for him’

White House expresses fresh displeasure over Tuesday video as top aides Hanegbi, Dermer meet with Blinken, Sullivan; PM: I can take criticism as long as we get bombs

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – The White House expressed deep frustration Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of the United States, pushing back on his complaint that Washington was failing to provide sufficient military support amid the war against Hamas in Gaza.

The White House response came shortly before National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer were slated to hold separate meetings with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington.

In an English-language video Tuesday, Netanyahu said he told Blinken that it was “inconceivable” that Washington was “withholding weapons and ammunitions” to Israel, an exchange the top US diplomat declined to confirm.

“It was perplexing to say the least, certainly disappointing, especially given that no other country is doing more to help Israel defend itself against the threat by Hamas,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday.

“The idea that we had somehow stopped helping Israel with their self-defense needs is absolutely not accurate,” he said, describing the claim as “vexing and disappointing to us as much as it was incorrect.”

Responding to Kirby’s comments, Netanyahu issued a statement saying he was “ready to suffer personal attacks as long as Israel receives the ammo it needs from the US in an existential war.”

The US has insisted that it has only upheld one shipment of bombs, which it has been upfront about for over a month. Netanyahu has yet to disclose what other weapons shipments he was referring to when he blasted the alleged “bottlenecks” in weapons transfers.

“This president put fighter aircrafts up in the air in the middle of April to help shoot down several hundred drones and missiles, including ballistic missiles that were fired from Iran proper at Israel,” Kirby said. “There’s no other country that’s done more or will continue to do more than the United States to help… Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Kirby said the US has passed along its displeasure with Netanyahu to Israel through various channels.

“I think we’ve made it abundantly clear to our Israeli counterparts through various vehicles our deep disappointment in the statements expressed in that video and our concerns over the accuracy in the statements made,” Kirby said.

The spokesman also said Israel would not be impacted by the Biden administration’s decision to reprioritize planned deliveries of foreign military sales of Patriot and other missiles to Ukraine.

He added Sullivan would discuss the war in Gaza and tensions between Israel and Lebanon when he meets with Hanegbi and Dermer.

A larger, more formal “strategic dialogue” meeting was meanwhile being rescheduled, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The White House has issued fierce denials of reports that it canceled the meeting because of Netanyahu’s video, with a spokesperson saying Wednesday it had never been finalized.

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)

Following Kirby’s criticism Thursday, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tore into Netanyahu, saying the US’s displeasure was affecting Israel’s international standing.

“When the White House spokesperson says the Israeli prime minister is ‘perplexing,’ they hear it in Riyadh, they hear it in Moscow, in Beijing, in Tokyo, in Cairo and Amman,” he said in a statement.

“In these places, everyone is reaching the same conclusion: Israel is no longer the closest ally of the US. This is the damage Netanyahu is causing us. This is his terrible irresponsibility and these are consequences,” Lapid added.

According to unsourced reports — published Monday in Hebrew by Channel 12 and in German by the Bild daily — during his meeting with Blinken last week in Jerusalem, Netanyahu had demanded that the frequency of US arms shipments return to the level it was at immediately after the October 7 Hamas attack.

In contrast to the considerable military aid that the US provided at the start of the war, the situation has reversed of late, Netanyahu reportedly complained, saying the US has in practice halted its military support to its ally in the war against Hamas.

Netanyahu reportedly argued that the slowing of aid plays into the hands of Iran and its proxies in the region, including Hamas and Hezbollah, extends the war and increases the risk of it broadening to new fronts.

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/X)

Asked to confirm Netanyahu’s account of their meeting during a press conference in Washington Tuesday, Blinken indicated that the Israeli premier was exaggerating the existence of a so-called “bottleneck.”

“We are continuing to review one shipment that [US] President [Joe] Biden has talked about with regard to 2000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken said.

“But everything else is moving as it normally would move… with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges [it faces],” he added.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about. We just don’t,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said later.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas also weighed in on the public spat Thursday, accusing Biden of slow-walking arms deliveries to Israel through a “bureaucratic sleight-of-hand.”

Noting a shipment of heavy bombs withheld by Biden over concerns about their potential use in Rafah, Cotton charged that the administration has also held up deliveries of fighter jets, tactical vehicles, mortars, tank shells and other munitions by not informing Congress of plans to ship them.

“Your administration can then claim that the weapons are ‘in process’ while never delivering them,” he wrote in a letter to Biden, while saying the US president can bypass the need for Congressional approval by asserting emergency powers but is no longer doing so.

“Though your administration reportedly released a ship carrying at least some of these arms on Wednesday, that modest step doesn’t cure the damage done by the delay,” asserts Cotton. “Any delays to military support to Israel blatantly disregard Congress’s bipartisan mandate to supply Israel with all it needs to defeat the Hamas terrorists and other Iranian-backed groups.”

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.”

The US has long been by far the largest arms supplier to its closest Middle East ally, followed by Germany — whose strong support for Israel reflects in part atonement for the Nazi Holocaust — and Italy.

Some countries, such as Italy, Canada and the Netherlands, have halted arms shipments to Israel this year over concerns they could be used in ways violating international humanitarian law — causing civilian casualties and destruction of residential areas — in Gaza.

The US says it has held up a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs over concerns its use could harm civilians in Rafah, where the army is currently fighting in southern Gaza.

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.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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