US pauses weapons delivery to Israel over Rafah offensive concerns: Reports

Biden’s administration paused shipment of weapons in effort to prevent full-scale assault on Rafah, official says.

United States President Joe Biden’s administration paused a shipment of weapons to Israel last week in opposition to apparent moves by its forces to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, a senior administration official has said.

Biden has been trying to head off a full-scale assault by the Israelis against Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.

The AFP, Reuters and The Associated Press news agencies on Tuesday quoted unnamed US officials as saying Washington began to “carefully review proposed transfers of particular weapons to Israel that might be used in Rafah” in April when it seemed Israel appeared close to making a decision on the assault.

“As a result of that review, we have paused one shipment of weapons last week. It consists of 1,800 2,000-pound [907kg] bombs and 1,700 500-pound [227kg] bombs,” one official reportedly said.

“We are especially focused on the end-use of the 2,000-lb bombs and the impact they could have in dense urban settings as we have seen in other parts of Gaza. We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment,” the official was quoted as saying. The news agencies said he spoke on condition of anonymity given the issue’s sensitivity.

Reuters reported that four sources said the shipments, which have been delayed for at least two weeks, involved Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), which place precision guidance systems onto bombs, as well as Small Diameter Bombs.

Quoting unnamed officials, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Tuesday that the US had delayed the shipment of some 6,500 JDAMs.

The delay comes at a time when Washington is publicly pressuring Israel to postpone its planned offensive in Rafah until it has taken steps to avert civilian casualties.

The White House and the Pentagon declined to comment on the shipment delays.

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Withholding arms from Israel

Biden on Monday held a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and stressed US opposition to a ground offensive in Rafah, according to the White House.

But in the early hours of Tuesday, just hours after Hamas, the group that runs Gaza, said it had accepted a ceasefire proposal put forward by international mediators, Israeli forces seized control of the Rafah border crossing.

Without addressing whether there had been a hold-up in arms shipments, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reaffirmed that Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security was “ironclad”.

Still, when asked about the reports on the arms delays, she added: “Two things could be true, in the sense of having those conversations, tough, direct conversations with our counterparts in Israel … in making sure citizens lives are protected … and getting that commitment.”

The Pentagon said on Monday that there had not been a policy decision to withhold arms from Israel, the US’s closest Middle East ally.

The Rafah crossing is crucial for aid and as an escape route for those able to flee into Egypt. Some 1.4 million Palestinians, including more than 600,000 children, are sheltering in the southern city, and the United Nations, US, European Union and international humanitarian organisations have warned an attack would be catastrophic.

Israel’s war on Gaza has left many of Gaza’s 2.3 million people on the brink of starvation and led to protests in the US and other countries demanding that universities and the Biden administration withdraw support for Israel – including the provision of weaponry.

‘A drop in the ocean’

A senior Israeli official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, did not confirm any specific hold-up in arms supplies but appeared to shrug them off: “As the prime minister has already said, if we have to fight with our fingernails, then we’ll do what we have to do.”

However, observers suggest the pause in deliveries is a significant step by the White House, which has exhibited growing impatience with Netanyahu as it has sought to persuade him to rein in the Israeli military push in Gaza and ensure more aid reaches Palestinians.

The US has reiterated many times its opposition to a major assault on Rafah, and Amir Oren, a journalist with the Haaretz newspaper, suggested to Al Jazeera that the reported move was an act of “deterrence”.

“Biden had to show Netanyahu that he’s serious,” Oren said.

Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Amman in Jordan because Al Jazeera has been closed down in Israel, noted that there has been no official response from the Israeli government.

However, the security establishment is reportedly concerned, he noted, that this is “a tactic by the US to increase pressure on the Israeli government to stop an all-out invasion of Rafah and to accept the terms of a ceasefire”.

Israeli officials are reported to be worried, he added, that this is a “harbinger of things to come … if Israel doesn’t start adhering more to what the US wants”.

However, he also noted that the pause of one delivery amounts to a very small percentage of the overall volume of weapons that Washington has been providing to Israel. “This is just a drop in the ocean,” Jamjoom said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies