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9 Dec, 2023 05:03

Biden pushing $500 million arms sale to Israel – Reuters

The White House is reportedly weighing whether to fast-track thousands of munitions under emergency powers
Biden pushing $500 million arms sale to Israel – Reuters

US President Joe Biden is quietly urging lawmakers to approve the sale of 45,000 tank shells to Israel, Reuters reports, noting that the deal is facing scrutiny amid growing concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza.

Worth over $500 million, the potential sale would restock Israel’s arsenal of 120-millimeter shells, which are used by its Merkava main battle tank, four unnamed sources told the outlet on Friday. Congress must authorize the transfer before it proceeds, but some lawmakers remain skeptical.

“This went to committees earlier this week and they are supposed to have 20 days to review Israel cases. [The State Department] is pushing them to clear [the sale] now,” said Josh Paul, a former State Department official who resigned in October to protest Washington’s “blind support” for Israel.

A current official confirmed Paul’s comments, also observing that the State Department has pressed Congress to approve the massive sale, which is currently under “informal review” by the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees.

However, Biden is reportedly considering bypassing legislators altogether to move ahead on a smaller sale of 13,000 tank shells, as emergency authorities under Arms Export Control Act would allow him to skip the congressional review. No decision has yet been made on the matter, two US officials said.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, who sits on the Foreign Relations committee, urged the White House to give lawmakers time to examine the sale, saying “The administration should not consider short-circuiting the already short time frame for congressional review of this or any other arms transfer.”

The $500 million deal is separate from a major aid package currently making its way through Congress, which would devote $14.3 billion in direct military assistance to Israel if passed in its current form. Some of Biden’s allies in the Senate have grown critical of US support given the soaring casualties in Gaza, however, with independent Senator Bernie Sanders saying Washington should use its “substantial leverage” over its ally to limit the bloodshed.

The US remains Israel’s top military donor, and has already transferred around 15,000 bombs and 57,000 artillery shells to Israel since October, the Wall Street Journal reported. That aid is in addition to annual assistance already given to the country, which amounts to around $3.8 billion each year.

Over 17,000 Palestinians, including more than 7,100 children, have been killed in Israel’s assault since the war began in October, according to local officials. The latest round of violence kicked off following a deadly Hamas attack on Israel, which left around 1,200 people dead, most of them civilians, and saw the militant group take over 200 hostages back to Gaza.