Overnight Defense & National Security — Preparing for the Biden-Putin call
Biden approves $735M weapons sale to Israel
The Biden administration has approved $735 million worth of precision-guided weapons to be sold to Israel, a congressional aide confirmed to The Hill on Monday.
The sale, which Congress was officially notified of on May 5, has concerned some House Democrats who have pressed the administration to limit military support for the Israeli government in the face of its growing assault on Gaza.
A majority of the possible sale is of Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions, equipment that can make unguided bombs dropped from aircraft into guided missiles, the aide confirmed.
The window for Congress to block this sale is for all intents and purposes closed. There are four days left in the 15-day expedited review window, and any resolution of disapproval has to be in committee for at least 10 days before there can be a vote to bring it to the floor.
"The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing," Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, said in a statement.
"It would be appalling for the Biden Administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians," Omar added, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "If this goes through this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a ceasefire."
The sale, which was first reported by The Washington Post, was approved five days before Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza strip, began firing rockets toward Israel in response to Israeli police action at Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
The conflict was also exacerbated by an impending, and since-postponed, Supreme Court hearing on a potential eviction order in a predominately Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem.
The rocket fire, which began on May 10, has been met with Israeli airstrikes that have killed nearly 200 Palestinians, including more than 50 children, and leveled several Gaza City buildings, including one hit over the weekend that also housed employees for The Associated Press and Al Jazeera.
The crisis, now in its second week, is the worst between the two sides since a 2014, and nations across the world have called for an immediate cease-fire.
But Netanyahu this weekend signaled that Israel's strikes and military action would not cease immediately.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has maintained that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas, and has made no indication it would curtail or place stipulations on the $3.8 billion in military aid the U.S. government gives to Israel annually.
A cohort of progressive Democrats, however, hopes to pressure the administration to do just that, with new legislation authored by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) that aims to exercise more oversight on how Israel uses the military assistance.
Asked later on Monday about Democrat lawmakers' effort to limit or stipulate military aid to Israel as a way to end violence, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration's role was not to "provide motivation for any actions."
"We want to bring an end to the violence, we want to deescalate the situation on the ground. . . . The most effective way we feel we can do that is through quiet and intensive diplomacy. That is what our focus is on at this point in time."
A State Department spokesperson told The Hill on Monday that the agency is "deeply concerned about the current violence and are working towards achieving a sustainable calm."
--Rebecca Kheel contributed to this report, which was updated at 3:38 p.m.