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Gallant denies arms transfer to PA as MKs lash out on Oslo anniversary

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the reports "fake news" after National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir warned of "consequences" if reports regarding the transfer were true.

Palestinian security personnel  block the entrance to the Samarian city of Nablus (Shechem), March 23, 2020. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Palestinian security personnel block the entrance to the Samarian city of Nablus (Shechem), March 23, 2020. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday denied reports that the current government approved a U.S. transfer of weapons and armored vehicles to the Palestinian Authority.

Army Radio on Wednesday published new details about the reported military transfer, citing Palestinian security officials who said that it had included 1,500 rifles, including M-16 rifles and Kalashnikovs. The transfer also reportedly included around 10 armored vehicles.

“Contrary to the misrepresentation emerging from the various reports, since I assumed the position of minister of defense, I have neither approved nor has there been a transfer of weapons or deadly military equipment to the Palestinian Authority. Any attempt to present things in a different way is a blatant lie,” tweeted Gallant.

Palestinian Authority security officials said that they had requested the weapons and military equipment over a year ago but were denied. The approval was reportedly received after the Israeli-Palestinian security summits in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh earlier this year under the sponsorship of the United States, Egypt and Jordan.

The approval reportedly took place after a dialogue with Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

For its part, COGAT denied the reports on Wednesday morning, saying that “no weapons were transferred to the Palestinian Authority during the past year.” However, it did not mention armored vehicles in the denial.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video message posted to social media on Wednesday called the reports “fake news” and clarified that since his government was sworn in “it has not transferred a single weapon to the Palestinian Authority” while also admitting that his government implemented a decision made by the previous government to transfer armored vehicles to the P.A.

“What we did do was implement a decision made by Defense Minister Benny Gantz (in the Bennett-Lapid government) on Jan. 22 to transfer a number of armored vehicles that have become obsolete.

“That’s what we did. Not armor. Not tanks. Not Kalashnikovs. Not anything. So sometimes the fake news is not protected and it’s good that we puncture this lie.”

The weapons and vehicles were reportedly transferred in recent days from U.S. bases in Jordan via the Allenby Crossing with full Israeli approval.

The Allenby crossing between Jordan and Israel, June 21, 2023. Photo by Yoav Dudkevitch/TPS.

According to Army Radio, Israeli security officials said that the weapons transfer was one of a series of steps being considered for the P.A., contingent on the P.A. presenting operational achievements against terrorists in Jenin and the official resumption of security coordination with Israel, which P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas terminated at the start of the year.

Israel reportedly set several conditions on the transfer, including that the weapons only be used in anti-terror activities and not in criminal pursuits, and only by some of the P.A.’s security apparatus, including the General Security, Counterintelligence and police services.

The reports drew a strong reaction from the right flank of Netanyahu’s coalition, with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir threatening “consequences” unless Netanyahu pledged that the reports of the transfer were baseless.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir at the Knesset in Jerusalem. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.

According to reports, sources close to Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that the Religious Zionism Party leader was unaware of any approval and was “seething with rage” at the reports.

Smotrich oversees COGAT as part of his ministerial role within the Defense Ministry.

These sources claimed that the move is part of steps taken by Netanyahu to form a unity government with former defense minister and opposition figure Gantz, leader of the National Unity party.

Smotrich was set to hold an urgent consultation later on Wednesday.

Religious Zionism MK Zvi Sukkot said that the reports were “absolutely terrible,” adding that “if this is true, I don’t know how to live with it in any way. We didn’t come to play.”

National Unity Party MK Matan Kahana responded to the reports on X (formerly Twitter), writing that “after Smotrich called for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, It turns out that his government is actively working to arm it with advanced weapons and equip it with armored personnel carriers.”

Wednesday also marks the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Oslo Accords divided Judea and Samaria between Israeli and Palestinian administrative and security control and established the Palestinian Authority, which governs Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.

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