newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Biden admin confirms blocking arms shipment to Israel over Rafah

A senior official cited concerns that the weapons could be used in densely populated parts of Gaza's Rafah city.

Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

The Biden administration on Tuesday night confirmed reports that it had held up a munitions shipment to Israel.

A senior official told CBS News that the United States last week stopped a delivery of thousands of heavy bombs over fears that they could be used during Israel’s military operation in Rafah.

The shipment included 1,800 bombs weighing 2,000 pounds and another 1,700 bombs weighing 500 pounds.

According to the official, Israel has not “fully addressed” U.S. concerns about the humanitarian situation for the over one million Gazans sheltering in Rafah city, and the administration is particularly concerned that 2,000-pound bombs could be used in densely populated parts of the city.

It marks the first time since the Hamas-led assault on the northwestern Negev on Oct. 7 and ensuing war in Gaza that Washington has held up arms supplies to its Middle Eastern ally.

No final decision has been made on whether Israel will receive the bombs shipment at a later date, the official clarified.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision was taken in the context of Jerusalem’s plans to carry out a large-scale ground offensive in Rafah, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Senators on Wednesday.

“We’ve been very clear that Israel shouldn’t launch a major attack into Rafah without accounting for and protecting the civilians that are in that battlespace,” Austin said, according to a Reuters report.

“And again, as we have assessed the situation, we have paused one shipment of high payload munitions,” he said during a hearing on Biden’s 2025 defense budget request. “We’ve not made a final determination on how to proceed with that shipment.”

The Biden administration has also reportedly held up the delivery of thousands of precision weapons to Israel amid the Jewish state’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

According to a Wall Street Journal report on Monday, citing officials familiar with the deal, at issue is the sale of up to 6,500 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs)—a guidance kit that converts “dumb bombs” into “smart” precision-guided munitions.

The weapons shipments are being held up to send a political message, a separate report by Politico cited a U.S. official as saying on Tuesday.

Jerusalem already greenlit a ground offensive in the last Hamas bastion in southernmost Gaza despite opposition from the White House, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated is essential to defeating the terror group and preventing them from regrouping and threatening Israel again. Hamas has publicly vowed many repeats of its murderous rampage of Oct. 7.

Evacuations of some 100,000 noncombatants in eastern Rafah started on Monday ahead of an overnight targeted operation in which the Israel Defense Forces took control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the Salah ad-Din road.

A source familiar with the Israeli plans told CNN that the operation in Rafah would be “very limited” in scope and is intended to pressure Hamas to agree to a hostage-release deal. The source said that the operation is not the full-scale ground offensive that Netanyahu has declared will take place and that U.S. President Joe Biden is against.

The IDF on Monday called on the residents of eastern Rafah to evacuate to newly established humanitarian zones.

The IDF has marked out two evacuation zones: an expansion of the Al-Mawasi zone, along the central-southern Gazan coastline, and Khan Yunis.

Monday’s message directs noncombatants to the expanded area in Al-Mawasi, which includes field hospitals, tents and increased amounts of food, water, medicine and other supplies.

The Israeli military said that it was conveying the evacuation message via announcements, text messages, phone calls and media broadcasts in Arabic.

The United States has made its views on a major ground invasion of Rafah clear to Israel, a State Department spokesperson told Reuters on Tuesday.

It was the first response from the Biden administration since Israel began the targeted operation in eastern Rafah.

“We continue to believe that a hostage deal is in the best interest of the Israeli and the Palestinian people; it would bring an immediate ceasefire and allow increased humanitarian assistance into Gaza,” the spokesperson said in an e-mail.

The Biden administration did not inform Jerusalem in advance of Hamas’s “acceptance” on Monday of the latest hostage deal proposed by Egypt and Qatar, Axios reported on Tuesday, citing three Israeli officials.

The officials told the U.S. news outlet that the government was caught off guard by the Hamas announcement, the text of which it didn’t receive from the mediators until an hour after the terrorist group released its statement.

Upon reading the statement, Israeli officials reportedly were surprised to see “many new elements” that were not contained in the previous proposal to which Israel had agreed and which was presented to Hamas by the American, Egyptian and Qatari mediators 10 days earlier.

“It looked like a whole new proposal,” one official told Axios political correspondent Barak Ravid.

“Israel got played” by the United States and the mediators, two Israeli officials said. They drafted “a new deal” and were not transparent about it, the officials said.

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