'Blindsided' US holds up Israeli arms requests

An Israeli request for a transfer of Hellfire missiles from the United States was put on hold after the White House and State Department learned they were kept in the dark concerning ammunition transfers to Israel in July, the Wall Street Journal reported late Wednesday.

“We were blindsided,” one U.S. diplomat told the Journal after the newspaper learned Israel had acquired 120 mm mortar shells and 40 mm illuminating rounds from the U.S.

Israel had made the request on July 20 for the munitions, and on July 30 an Israeli shell struck a United Nations-run school in Gaza that killed a number of people. 

The report said the U.S. military approved the transfer three days after the request, but it wasn’t made public until later. The munitions were already stored in a pre-positioned weapons stockpile in Israel.

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One U.S. defense official told the Journal that the transfer followed proper protocols.

“There was no intent to blindside anyone. The process for this transfer was followed precisely along the lines that it should have," the official said.

The White House, however, then instructed the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency and other U.S. agencies to consult White House and State Department officials before approving future requests from Israel.

A senior Obama administration official told the Journal the munitions transfers shouldn’t have been a routine “check-the-box approval” process. 

The development has contributed to recent tensions between the U.S. and Israel, officials from the U.S., Israel and Palestine said. 

On Wednesday, the White House said President Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the need for a sustainable cease-fire agreement. U.S. officials told the Journal the phone call was “combative.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also spoke by phone to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Wednesday.

The report comes as a five-day extension of a temporary cease-fire between Israel and Gaza appeared to be holding Thursday. 

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