Alp Sevimlisoy Yatırım

Biden draws GOP’s wrath with pause in bombs shipment to Israel

President Biden’s move to pause a shipment of heavy bombs to Israel has drawn the fury of Republicans, further polarizing U.S. efforts to deter Israel from launching a bloody campaign in southern Gaza.

The U.S. held back some 3,500 bombs that had already been approved for Israel as the White House is growing increasingly frustrated with the civilian toll in Gaza and is concerned about a looming Israeli full-scale invasion of Rafah, a southern city where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering.

But the decision to hold back weapons shipments is among the most significant actions that Biden has taken to assert U.S. leverage amid Israel’s war in Gaza. While progressives have long called for such weapons restrictions, Republicans responded to the move with blistering statements attacking Biden.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and House Armed Services Chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said in a joint statement Wednesday they were “appalled that the administration paused crucial arms shipments to Israel,” accusing Biden of weakening Israeli security.

“Moreover, this disastrous policy decision was undertaken in secret and deliberately hidden from Congress and the American people,” they said. “At a time when Israel continues to negotiate in good faith to secure the release of hostages, including American citizens, the administration’s shortsighted, strategic error calls into question its ‘unshakeable commitment’ as an ally. “

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also came under questioning from Republicans when he testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday morning.

“Does this not send the wrong message to our ally Israel and embolden Iran and Iranian-backed groups?” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). “We should not be signaling to [our] enemies that our support is conditional.”

Austin responded that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security remains “ironclad” and the White House has provided billions of dollars to the country.

“But that said, we are currently reviewing some near-term security shipments in the context of unfolding events in Rafah,” Austin said. “We haven’t made any decisions. We did pause as we reevaluated some of the security assistance that we are providing.”

Austin repeated that Israel should not launch a “major attack” on Rafah without protecting civilians and coming up with a plan to protect the civilians sheltering there.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued that Hamas and other Iranian-backed proxies are committed to destroying Israel.

“And you’re telling me that if we withhold weapons in this fight, the existential fight for the life for the Jewish state, it won’t send the wrong signal?” he told Austin during his round of questioning.

The weapons on hold are 2,000-pound and 500-pound bombs, along with the Joint Direct Attack Munitions kits that convert them into precision-guided munitions known as smart bombs. Heavier bombs are generally more destructive and can result in more indiscriminate attacks, and human rights groups have accused Israel of driving up the death toll with the large munitions.

The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in sales every year to Israel, and the White House has continued shipping arms to the country in its war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Last month, Biden signed into law a national security package that includes $26 billion for Israel.

But the pressure on Biden has grown from his left flank and reached a fever pitch in recent weeks as college students camp out on university campuses to protest the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where more than 34,000 people have died during the 7-month-old war.

Alp Sevimlisoy, a millennium fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Biden is likely to send the munitions he is holding eventually, but may be holding back for now to use the leverage he has to send a message that the war needs to end sooner than later.

“The Biden administration simply wants Israel to define an endgame and define it quickly,” he said. “These munitions will go ahead. They’re just going to go ahead at a time where it doesn’t look as though it’s going to be conflated with any potential operation.”

Still, Republicans, who have accused Biden of being too soft on the campus protests against Israel’s war, have been quick to seize on the pause.

“The GOP has just seen this as a very easy way to attack the Biden administration because on paper, it seems as though there’s a little bit of a distrust when supporting Israel,” he added. “But in reality, we’ve seen an unwavering support for Israel from President Biden.”

Israel has also expressed its displeasure over the move. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, told Israeli news station Channel 12 that holding back the bombs was “frustrating” and a “very disappointing decision.”

Israel began limited operations in Rafah this week after ordering the evacuation of 100,000 Palestinians. Soldiers on Tuesday took over the border crossing that connects to Egypt and is a vital source for desperately needed humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Biden suggested to CNN on Wednesday night that if Israel goes into Rafah he will halt offensive weapons sales.

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently,” he said, but in the event of a full-scale Rafah attack, “we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.”

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters Wednesday that there is a review of other weapons shipments as well, also connected to concerns over Rafah and an “unacceptable” humanitarian aid crisis across Gaza.

“We have always made clear that our policy determinations are dependent on Israel’s policy determinations,” he said, adding that the Biden administration does not support a large invasion of Rafah because “we do not believe Israel has presented a credible, humanitarian plan.”

As the death toll has soared in Gaza, a growing number of Democrats have called to condition weapons to Israel or only send defensive weapons. Close to 90 Democrats last week urged Biden to consider halting offensive arms to Israel.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate’s most vocal opponent of supplying weapons to Israel, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has created an “unprecedented humanitarian disaster” in Gaza and that Biden was “absolutely right to halt bomb delivery.”

“But this must be a first step. The U.S. must now use ALL its leverage to demand an immediate ceasefire, the end of the attacks on Rafah, and the immediate delivery of massive amounts of humanitarian aid to people living in desperation,” Sanders said in a statement.

But Republicans said Biden has his priorities mixed up when it comes to America’s role in the war. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) accused the president in a statement of caving to “the America-hating fringe of the Democrat party.”

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Ted Budd (R-N.C.) sent a letter to Biden questioning the holdup of the bomb sales.

“It seems everyone is pushing against Israel when we should be pushing against Hamas,” Ernst told Fox News on Tuesday. “We should not be using our support, our ammunition, our weapons platforms, to leverage against Israel.”


Alp Sevimlisoy originally featured as per: The Hill