newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Johnson, McConnell demand answers on Biden’s Israel arms delay

"Pauses in critical weapons shipments call into question your pledge that your commitment to Israel's security will remain ironclad," the Republicans wrote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (left) and House Speaker Mike Johnson on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct.  26, 2023. Source: Office of Senator Mitch McConnell via Wikimedia Commons.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (left) and House Speaker Mike Johnson on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 26, 2023. Source: Office of Senator Mitch McConnell via Wikimedia Commons.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are demanding answers from the Biden administration on delayed weapons shipments to Israel during its war against Hamas in Gaza.

The two Republicans sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday, writing that they were “alarmed” by the postponement, which Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin confirmed to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on the same day.

“These recent press reports and pauses in critical weapons shipments call into question your pledge that your commitment to Israel’s security will remain ironclad,” Johnson and McConnell wrote.

Austin told the hearing on Capitol Hill that the U.S. paused “one shipment of high payload munitions,” adding that “we’ve not made a final determination on how to proceed with that shipment.”

The defense secretary assured that Jerusalem would continue to receive defensive security assistance and that the paused arms sale is not connected to the recently passed foreign aid bill, which includes billions of dollars in military aid for Israel.

“We are currently reviewing some near-term security assistance shipments in the context of unfolding events in Rafah,” Austin said.

Washington is opposed to a full-scale military invasion of the last Hamas stronghold in southernmost Gaza, arguing that Jerusalem has not convinced it that noncombatants will be protected.

Israel says that conquering Rafah city is necessary to winning the war and preventing Hamas from regrouping and threatening the Jewish state again, with the terrorist group vowing multiple repeats of the Oct. 7 massacre.

Israeli forces earlier this week began civilian evacuations from eastern Rafah to humanitarian zones, before conducting a targeted operation that included taking control of the border crossing with Egypt.

According to the letter, Johnson and McConnell have been unable to obtain relevant information from the State and Defense departments about the ongoing review of weapons shipments.

“Israel faces an existential and multi-front threat as recently demonstrated by the direct attack by Iran and Iranian-backed terrorists, and daylight between the United States and Israel at this dangerous time risks emboldening Israel’s enemies and undermining the trust that other allies and partners have in the United States,” their letter states.

The letter concludes with a request for responses by the end of the week on the timing of the review as well as whether any other deliveries are slated to be temporarily halted, the office conducting the review and “most importantly when the review is anticipated to end to allow this vital assistance to move forward.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other GOP leaders have also criticized the Biden administration for blocking the weapons delivery intended for the Middle East ally.

The Biden administration withheld the approval of the sale of two types of precision-guided bombs, the first such delay of an arms sale since Oct. 7.

If Israel goes into Rafah, the U.S. will stop providing weapons to the Jewish state, President Joe Biden told Erin Burnett of CNN on Wednesday.

Hours after the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. had withheld military aid to Israel and the day after Biden spoke at the Days of Remembrance for Holocaust victims at the U.S. Capitol, the president told CNN that Gazans have been killed due to 2,000-pound bombs, which Washington is withholding from the Jewish state, and “other ways in which they go after population centers.”

Biden continued, “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.

“We’re not walking away from Israel’s security,” Biden claimed. “We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas.”

The Biden administration began reviewing weapons transfers to Israel in April as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wartime government moved closer to a major Rafah offensive despite opposition from the White House, the Associated Press reported, citing U.S. officials.

Biden signed off on the weapons pause last week, an official said.

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

According to a senior Biden administration 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 areas there.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday blasted Biden for conditioning American military aid on Israel avoiding a ground offensive in Rafah, accusing him of siding with Hamas and “leading the world straight into World War III.”

In a post on his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote: “Crooked Joe Biden, whether he knows it or not, just said he will withhold weapons from Israel as they fight to eradicate Hamas Terrorists in Gaza. Hamas murdered thousands of innocent civilians, including babies, and are still holding Americans hostage, if the hostages are still alive. Yet Crooked Joe is taking the side of these terrorists, just like he has sided with the Radical Mobs taking over our college campuses, because his donors are funding them.”

He went on to say that, “Biden is weak, corrupt, and leading the world straight into World War III. Remember—this war in Israel, just like the war in Ukraine, would have NEVER started if I was in the White House. But very soon, we will be back, and once again demanding PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”

In a wide-ranging interview with Time magazine published at the end of April, Trump said he was no longer sure a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was feasible.

“Most people thought it was going to be a two-state solution. I’m not sure a two-state solution anymore is gonna work,” he said.

“There was a time when I thought two states could work. Now I think two states is going to be very, very tough. I think it’s going to be much tougher to get. I also think you have fewer people that liked the idea. You had a lot of people that liked the idea four years ago. Today, you have far fewer people that like that idea,” he added.

In the same interview, Trump pointed to his past criticisms of Netanyahu, saying he “never forgot” how the prime minister “dropped out” of the U.S. attack that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad four years ago.

He also said he “had a bad experience with Bibi” in 2020.

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.

The Oct. 7 massacre, in which Hamas murdered some 1,200 people, “happened on [Netanyahu’s] watch,” said Trump, “And I think it’s had a profound impact on him, despite everything. Because people said that shouldn’t have happened. They [Israelis] have the most sophisticated equipment. They had—everything was there to stop that. And a lot of people knew about it, you know, thousands and thousands of people knew about it.”

Netanyahu “rightfully has been criticized” in connection with Oct. 7, he added.

In an interview with Israel Hayom in March, the former president said that he supported Israel’s defensive war against Hamas and that he would have responded to the Oct. 7 attack in a very similar way. At the same time, he warned that the longer the war dragged on, the worse things would get for Israel.

“You have to finish up your war. To finish it up. You gotta get it done. And, I am sure you will do that. And we gotta get to peace, we can’t have this going on. And I will say, Israel has to be very careful, because you’re losing a lot of the world, you’re losing a lot of support, you have to finish up, you have to get the job done. And you have to get on to peace, to get on to a normal life for Israel, and for everybody else,” he said.

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