Home News Turning point or breaking point?Biden suspends weapons testing linked to Israel

Turning point or breaking point?Biden suspends weapons testing linked to Israel


The message didn’t get through. Not by phone call, emissary, public statement or joint committee meeting. So, frustrated that he was being ignored, President Biden chose a more dramatic way to make his case to the Israeli leader. He stopped sending bombs.

Biden’s decision to suspend the delivery of 3,500 bombs to Israel is intended to send a strong signal: his patience has limits. Biden has insisted that his support for the Jewish state remains “rock solid” but for the first time since the war in Gaza began last fall, he has chosen to use his power as Israel’s main arms supplier to express his displeasure.

The seizure of the bomb marks a major turning point in the 76-year relationship between the United States and Israel, which have historically been one of the world’s closest security partnerships. But this isn’t necessarily a turning point. The Biden administration is still allowing other weapons shipments to Israel, and in fact, officials have stressed that no final decision has been made on the currently pending bomb. Biden hopes the pause will prompt Israel to change course.

“We will continue to take necessary actions to ensure that Israel has the means to defend itself,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told senators at a hearing on Wednesday, becoming the first administration official to publicly confirm the arms suspension. . “But having said that, we are currently reviewing some recent security assistance in light of the events in Rafah.”

For months, Israel’s planned invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have taken refuge, has been a source of intense friction with the Biden administration. Israel insists they need to enter Rafah to completely destroy Hamas, while the Americans oppose the move, which they fear will lead to widespread civilian casualties.

The dispute has come to a head in recent days as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet appear to be moving closer to a decision to go ahead with a military attack on Rafah despite U.S. objections. Administration officials said they began reviewing weapons that could be used in the operation last month, and Biden signed an order to keep the bombs last week.

“This decision means that Biden has decided to use his only real leverage against Bibi – withholding weapons,” said Eurasia Group Chairman Cliff Kupchan, who just returned from a trip to the Middle East. He was referring to Mr Netanyahu. His nickname. “This is a low point in U.S.-Israeli relations as it begins to compromise Israel’s security. Biden has no choice. This war is a drag on his campaign, the unity of the Democratic Party, and America’s standing in the world.”

The suspension, which the government hoped would send a quiet message, was not initially announced publicly but was leaked by Israelis. In the following days, Israel ordered the evacuation of 110,000 civilians in Rafah, carried out air strikes on targets on the edge of the city, dispatched tanks and occupied the crossing point to Egypt. Although the moves were considered limited and not the start of the promised attack, they set off alarm within the White House.

Israel’s action was partly in response to last weekend’s Hamas rocket attack that killed four Israeli soldiers and appeared to be an effort to put pressure on Hamas to agree to a temporary ceasefire in exchange for the release of some hostages. Filmed during the October 7 terror attack .

Whether such a deal is possible remains uncertain. CIA Director William J. Burns, who is deeply involved in the negotiations, met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday, even as other officials negotiated competing proposals from both sides in Cairo. Analysts say such a deal may be the only way to avoid a more serious rupture between Israel and the Biden administration.

“They’re asking Israel not to get heavily involved in Rafah,” said Elliott Abrams, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations who has served in several Republican administrations. “Unless a hostage agreement is reached, I think the Israelis will move into Rafah and that will create great tensions.”

The relationship between the United States and Israel has been unique since the Jewish state declared independence in 1948, and just 11 minutes later, President Harry S. Truman made the United States the first country in the world to recognize it. But the relationship between the two countries has also been facing tremendous pressure for a long time.

Initially, under Presidents Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United States refused to sell arms to Israel at all. President John F. Kennedy became the first to open up the arsenal by offering Eagle anti-aircraft missiles. President Lyndon B. Johnson expanded contacts by sending M-48 tanks, A-4 Skyhawk aircraft, and F-4 Phantom aircraft.

Presidents of various countries have previously stopped providing aid to Israel to express dissatisfaction or influence policy. President Ronald Reagan delayed shipments of warplanes and other munitions on more than one occasion due to dissatisfaction with Israel’s intervention in Lebanon. President George H.W. Bush delayed $10 billion in home loan guarantees to prevent U.S. funds from being used to finance settlements in the West Bank.

But overall, the United States has provided more aid to Israel than any other country in the world since World War II. As of last year, the United States had provided $158.7 billion in funding to Israel since its founding, a large portion of which, $124.3 billion, went toward its military and missile defense systems. According to the Congressional Research Service. Washington currently provides $3.8 billion in annual military aid under a 10-year memorandum of understanding signed by President Barack Obama, not counting the $15 billion in additional aid approved by Congress and last month. Signed into law by Mr. Biden.

Republicans were quick to criticize Biden on Wednesday after Austin confirmed reports of delays in bomb shipments. “It’s obscene. It’s ridiculous,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told the defense secretary during a Senate hearing. “Give Israel what they need to fight a war they cannot afford to lose.”

The party’s Senate leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he called the president’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday morning “to express my concerns to the administration that delaying arms shipments to Israel is just another way to “. Trying to tell allies how to conduct war. ” He and House Speaker Mike Johnson later sent a letter to Mr. Biden protesting the decision.

On the other hand, Democrats and progressives who have been urging Biden to limit or cut off weapons to curb Israel’s war say the president’s action is long overdue and comes after more than 34,000 people have died in Gaza, including combatants and civilians. , action is still not enough. .

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist from Vermont, said Biden’s decision was “absolutely the right thing to do” but should be just a start. “Our impact is clear,” he said. The United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Israel over the years. We can no longer be complicit in Netanyahu’s horrific war against the Palestinian people. “

The decision caught the attention of Netanyahu and his war cabinet. Shalom Lipner, a longtime adviser to several Israeli prime ministers, said this “has caused deep concern within Israel about how to limit Israel’s access to weapons – a move that would certainly embolden Hamas – May be consistent with Biden’s consistent approach – reaffirming his strong commitment to his security.”

But he added that “the Netanyahu government would do strategic harm to Israel if it ignores the strong opposition from its main providers of military and diplomatic support.” He predicted that the prime minister may try to adopt a more limited, cautious approach in Rafah way to handle the dispute while placing the blame for the failure of military operations on Biden.

The 3,500 bombs seized last week included 2,000-pound and 500-pound munitions. Government officials say they are particularly concerned that larger bombs are too powerful to be used accurately in densely populated urban areas like Rafah.

The U.S. State Department is still considering whether to continue delivery joint direct attack munition guidance kit So-called “dumb bombs” can be converted into precision-guided weapons, but there are no imminent shipments yet. Additionally, officials said they will still provide “every dollar” of aid authorized in the new congressional package.

Analyst Kupkan said the direction of U.S.-Israeli relations will depend on what happens next. If Netanyahu follows Biden’s judgment on Rafah, this may only be a temporary conflict. But if the leaders of the two countries continue to face off, it could lead to a broader arms embargo with longer-lasting effects.

“The foundation of the U.S.-Israel relationship is very strong and this move will not significantly damage it,” Kupkan said. “However, further withholdings, while unlikely, would make a different story.”

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