Netanyahu slams US for ‘withholding’ weapons to Israel

Israeli PM says the US promised to work to remove restrictions, but Washington says bomb shipment still under review.

People sit in among the rubble
Palestinians hold Eid al-Adha prayers by the ruins of al-Rahma mosque, which had been destroyed by Israeli air raids, in Khan Younis, June 16, 2024 [File: Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticised the administration of US President Joe Biden for “withholding weapons” to Israel in recent months as it presses its war on Gaza.

Netanyahu said in a video statement on Tuesday that it was “inconceivable” that the United States had been “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel” in recent months.

“Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks. I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case,” Netanyahu said, referring to talks the top US diplomat held in the country last week.

Washington provides $3.8bn in military assistance to Israel annually, and in April, Biden signed a law granting the US ally $17bn in additional aid amid Israel’s war on Gaza.

Biden and his top aides often stress their commitment to Israel, but Washington confirmed last month holding up a single shipment of 900kg (2,000 pound) bombs to the Israeli military over concerns about civilian casualties in Israel’s assault on Rafah in southern Gaza.

Since then, the Biden administration has authorised further weapons sales to Israel, according to US media accounts, including a package worth $1bn last month.

The Washington Post also reported on Monday that the Biden administration pressured top Democratic lawmakers to sign off on the $18bn sale of 50 F-15 fighter jets to Israel.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Blinken stressed that the US is committed to Israeli security and continues to move arms transfers to Israel through its system on a “regular basis”. But he said the hold on the heavy bombs remains in place.

“We, as you know, are continuing to review one shipment that President Biden has talked about with regard to 2000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah,” Blinken said. “That remains under review. But everything else is moving as it normally would move.”

The White House also denied Netanyahu’s claim that the US has been withholding weapons to Israel for months, stressing that the US has only paused a one shipment of bombs.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about. There was one particular shipment of munitions that was paused,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “We continue to have these constructive discussions with Israelis for the release of that particular shipment… There are no other pauses – none.”

The Biden administration has been facing pressure to halt its military aid to Israel due to growing reports of Israeli abuses in Gaza, including allegations of targeting civilian infrastructure, using starvation as a weapon of war and torturing detainees.

After months of strong support, Biden seemed to draw a red line for Israel in May, warning the country against invading Rafah. He told CNN that the US would not provide bombs and artillery to be used in a major Israeli offensive in the crowded southern Gaza city.

Israel launched its assault on Rafah later in May despite US and international warnings, displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians – many of whom had already fled other parts of Gaza.

Israeli forces seized and closed the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, which had served as a major gateway for humanitarian aid.

As Israeli forces continue to press their offensive in Rafah, the Biden administration has argued that the military assault does not amount to a “major” operation.

“We still have not yet seen them launch what looks like a full-scale major military operation – certainly not in the size, scope, or scale of the operations in Khan Younis, in Gaza City, elsewhere in Gaza. It’s been a more limited operation,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said last week.

Source: Al Jazeera