No change in policy, not “surprised” by arms shipments to Israel, additional review in process
After months of worsening tensions, the US-Israeli diplomatic relationship has reached new lows, with the White House and State Department last month tightening the reins on arms transfers to Israel, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, and blocking the delivery of a batch of Hellfire precision missiles.
It also reported on a “particularly combative phone call on Wednesday” between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and said administration officials consider Netanyahu and his team reckless and untrustworthy, while the Israel leadership considers the administration weak and naive.
The decision to evaluate every request by the Israeli military separately, including halting the transfer of Hellfire missiles, came after the White House and State Department discovered last month that the Pentagon was supplying Jerusalem with arms without their knowledge, the newspaper report said.
While one US diplomat described the American reaction to the arms transfer as a feeling of being “blindsided,” another US defense official stressed the back channel transfers were legitimate and did not require a sign-off from President Barack Obama or the State Department.
“There was no intent to blindside anyone. The process for this transfer was followed precisely along the lines that it should have,” a US defense official told the paper.
After learning of these transfers, the Obama administration, perturbed that much of the ammunition was used by the IDF in its offensive in the Gaza Strip, revised the review process in a move that is likely to limit or at least delay Israel’s requests for weapons.
A transfer of a large batch of Hellfire missiles was subsequently put on hold by the Pentagon.
Increasing control of the weapons transferred to Israel is “the United States saying ‘The buck stops here. Wait a second…It’s not OK anymore,’” a senior US official said.
Earlier this week, Britain’s business secretary said London would halt some arms exports to Israel if fighting resumed in Gaza.
On July 23, the Pentagon approved a transfer of arms, including 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illuminating rounds after receiving a request three days earlier from Israel. As was customary until that point, the White House and State Department were not informed.
US-supplied shells were later used in a July 30 IDF strike on a UN school in Jabaliya that killed 16 people — an attack that drew unusually fierce criticism from the White House and State Department. Israel said it was responding to fire originating in the area.
“The shelling of a UN facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at the time. The US also called for a full investigation of the incident, but stopped short of ascribing the blame on Israel. timesofisrael.com