US Withholds Offensive Weapons as Israel Plans Rafah Attack

05:18 May 9, 2024

US Withholds Offensive Weapons as Israel Plans Rafah Attack

U.S. President Joe Biden said he would suspend a shipment of some weapons to Israel. U.S. officials are concerned about Israel’s plan to expand a military operation in the Gazan city of Rafah that the Biden administration does not support.

Israeli officials objected to the move on Thursday. Gilad Erdan is Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations. He said it was “a difficult and very disappointing statement to hear from a president to whom we have been grateful since the beginning of the war.”

On Wednesday, Biden spoke to the news network CNN. He said the U.S. would continue to supply Israel with defensive arms, like those that support Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem,” he said.

Rafah is in the southern part of Gaza. A ground invasion would affect an estimated 1.3 million civilians. Those civilians fled the north and central parts of the territory to seek safety from Israel’s military offensive following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.

Biden administration officials have repeatedly said the U.S. will not support an invasion of Rafah unless Israel provides a plan for how it would protect civilians. In an April 4 telephone call, Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would withhold military aid unless Israel changed the way it is carrying out the war.

Talks on withholding arms began in April as Israel seemed closer to deciding what it would do in Rafah, a Biden administration official told VOA. Since then, the Israelis “have not fully addressed our concerns,” and the Biden administration made the decision to pause the arms transfer last week.

The shipment was supposed to include 1,800 907-kilogram bombs and 1,700 226-kilogram bombs. The administration said it is mainly concerned with the effects the bombs “could have in dense urban settings as we have seen in other parts of Gaza.”

The paused shipments include weapons provided for by Congress in earlier legislation. They were not approved in the additional spending law that Congress passed in April.

The pause marks the first time the U.S. used a weapons transfer in an effort to change Israel’s war policy since Hamas’ October 7 terror attack.

Mitch McConnell is the Republican Senate Minority Leader. He said Biden gave in to “radical voices” in his administration. The decision was “a shameful abdication of leadership,” he said.

Israel receives the most U.S. aid of any country, nearly $4 billion a year. Most of it is in the form of military assistance.

Report to Congress

The administration missed a Wednesday time limit to submit a report to Congress on whether Israel is violating humanitarian law while using U.S.-supplied weapons.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said, “We expect to deliver it in the very near future.”

In February, Biden directed the departments of state and defense to report to Congress within 90 days. The report is to show whether U.S. partners that were provided with American weapons have followed international and American laws.

These include the so-called Leahy Laws. Those are two measures named for former Senator Patrick Leahy that require the U.S. to cut off assistance to any foreign military or law enforcement group if there is evidence of human rights violations.

Josh Paul is the former director of the State Department agency that deals with weapons transfers. He said the delay could be the result of a serious disagreement, “or just regular bureaucracy.”

Human rights groups and independent observers have for weeks called for a suspension of American weapons transfers to Israel. They say the weapons have been used in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.

I’m Dan Novak.

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