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Overnight Defense: Administration approves $735M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point

Overnight Defense: Administration approves $735M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point
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Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: Scrutiny is falling on a recently approved U.S. arms sale to Israel as the current conflict with Hamas enters its second week.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration notified lawmakers that it approved a $735 million arms sale to Israel, mostly of Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions that can turn so-called “dumb” bombs into precision-guided missiles, a congressional aide confirmed to The Hill.

The Washington Post first reported the sale Monday morning.

Democratic criticism: The sale has prompted some concern from Democrats who have pressed the administration to limit military support for the Israeli government in the face of its growing assault on Gaza.

Among them is Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSimmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Pelosi signals no further action against Omar The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain MORE (D-Minn.), who said in a statement Monday it would be “appalling” if the sale moved forward.

“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 said in a statement, referring to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE.

“If this goes through this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a ceasefire,” added Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

What can Congress do?: At this point, the window for Congress to block the sale is all but closed.

The notification earlier this month set off a 15-day clock for Congress to act. There are four days left in that window, and it takes 10 days once a resolution of disapproval has been introduced before someone can force a vote to bring it to the floor.

Biden supports ceasefire: Meanwhile, President BidenJoe BidenEx-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' News leaders deal with the post-Trump era MORE had his third call with Netanyahu in less than a week amid the crisis.

During the call, Biden expressed support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the White House said, marking the first time Biden has publicly backed a ceasefire after a week of diplomatic efforts to ease the violence.

“The President expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” the White House said in a readout of the call.

Egypt is considered a key interlocutor in dealing with Hamas and negotiating with the Israelis on efforts to achieve a ceasefire. The U.S. does not speak with Hamas, which it designates as a terrorist organization.

Biden has faced increasing pressure from Democrats leading up to the call on Monday, particularly after an Israeli strike on a Gaza building that housed The Associated Press and other international media organizations.

About that strike: The Jerusalem Post, citing Israeli officials, reported over the weekend that Israel shared intelligence showing that Hamas was operating out of the building that housed the AP and Al Jazeera. Journalists were given short warning before the strike and no one was harmed.

Netanyahu also said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the Israeli government shared intelligence with the U.S. linking the building to Hamas.

“We share with our American friends all that intelligence and here's the intelligence we had, it's about Palestinian terrorist — an intelligence office for the Palestinian terrorist organization housed in that building that plots and organizes the terror attacks against Israeli civilians,” Netanyahu said. “So it's a perfectly legitimate target.”

But White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiFive states have yet to administer one dose of vaccine to half their populations Biden has convinced allies 'America is back,' says France's Macron Biden, Macron huddle on sidelines of G7 summit MORE on Monday declined to say whether Biden has viewed the intelligence Israel says it shared.

And Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenSunday shows preview: Biden foreign policy in focus as Dem tensions boil up back home Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Biden should remind Erdogan of NATO's basic tenets and values MORE told reporters in Denmark that the United States had asked for information on the strike, but that he hadn’t “seen any information provided,” while indicating that intelligence information would have gone through different channels.

 

MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT REFORM PUSH REACHES INFLECTION POINT

We’ve noted in this newsletter before the momentum that has been building toward a major reform in how military sexual assault is prosecuted. Over the weekend, The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell took a look at some of the key developments fueling that momentum.

Among them are last week’s announcement from a key House Republican, Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerJ.D. Vance emerges as wild card in Ohio GOP Senate primary Senate Armed Services chair throws support behind changing roles of military commanders in sexual assault prosecutions Gillibrand: 'I definitely want to run for president again' MORE (R-Ohio), that he’s on board with the change, and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Top general: Military justice overhaul proposed by Gillibrand 'requires some detailed study' Cher apologizes for confusing Sinema, Gillibrand MORE’s (D-N.Y.) bill getting the all-important 61 supporters to overcome any Senate filibuster.

A vote on the measure will be held “hopefully soon,” Gillibrand said Friday on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe."

“We now have 61 bipartisan co-sponsors, we probably have over 70 supporters of the bill. We hope that we can get a floor vote, up or down, so that we can start the process of making this law,” she said alongside Turner.

Rising reports: Reports of sexual assault within the military have steadily increased since 2006 and even rose last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, when global troop movements and interactions were limited due to the health crisis. Numerous Pentagon programs and efforts to reduce such cases have come up short.

That failure was on display on Thursday when the Defense Department released its annual report on sexual assault in the military. The yearly survey found that service members reported 6,290 incidents of sexual assault while on service in fiscal year 2020, up by 1 percent compared to fiscal 2019.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Gen. Paul LaCamera to be commander of U.S. Forces Korea at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3v20xVG

Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, will testify behind closed doors to the House Appropriation Committee’s defense subcommittee at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3yl5jPS

The House Appropriation Committee’s military construction subcommittee will hold a hearing on Air Force quality of life with testimony from AIr Force and Space Force officials at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3uVjCIX

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Afghanistan with testimony from special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and a U.S. Agency for International Development official at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3oohZkx

National Guard Bureau chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Army Reserve chief Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels and Navy Reserve chief Vice Adm. John Mustin will testify before the Senate Appropriation Committee’s defense subcommittee at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3uXHmMD

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will speak at a virtual Brookings Institution event at 10 a.m. https://brook.gs/3tVPewO

A Senate Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on cybersecurity of the defense industrial base with testimony from defense officials at 2:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/3tZQPS1

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the posture and readiness of the mobility enterprise at 4 p.m. https://bit.ly/3uYsu0l

 

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