US pauses weapon shipment to Israel amidst Rafah offensive

A US official reported on May 7th that President Joe Biden’s administration paused a shipment of weapons to Israel, furthering the country’s already strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in light of the war on Gaza, the Arab Weekly and agencies reported. 

This announcement followed Israel’s taking control of the vital Rafah Crossing also on May 7th, after launching an overnight assault on the region the night before. The station borders Egypt, where peace talk efforts recently lost momentum with Hamas’s declaration that there will be no ceasefire if Israel moves forward with a Rafah offensive. 

Biden has tried to dissuade Netanyahu from continued violence in Rafah, but on March 19th the Prime Minister alleged that he had made it “supremely clear” to the President that Israel was “determined” to proceed with its military action.  

A US official told Reuters that, after seeing clear evidence of this with May 7th’s assault, the US “began to carefully review proposed transfers of particular weapons to Israel that might be used in Rafah” — referring to chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Gregory Meeks’s April 9th statement that he sought more information on an intended Israeli arms delivery. 

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“As a result of that review, we have paused one shipment of weapons last week,” the official said. “It consists of 1,800 2,000-lb bombs and 1,700 500-lb bombs.” 

“We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment,” they added.

This delay comes as Americans are actively mounting pressure on Washington, evidenced in recent student demonstrations across some 40 US university campuses. 

Though White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. The pausing of Israel’s arms shipment will not affect the country’s overall military aid from the US. 

Washington, however, did brief Israel on a new national security memorandum (NSM-40) issued in February that reminds countries receiving US weapons to adhere to international law. In April, Reuters reported that some senior US officials did not find Israel’s assurances credible, prompting lawmakers to put pressure on the Biden administration’s support of Israel. 

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While the NSM-40 report was not yet finished, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller insisted the department was working “very hard” to complete it. “It’s possible it slips just a little bit but we’re still, at this point, trying to get it done by tomorrow,” he said.

Many of Biden’s fellow Democrats have also called for a shift in the US’s military support of  Israel. “We need to use all the leverage we’ve got,” member of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Chris Van Hollen said. “The administration has not used the leverage it has to date.” 

He added that US law bars weapon sales to countries that block humanitarian aid. “I don’t know how many more kids have to starve before we use all the levers of our influence here, but they really need to do more,” he said. 

Representative Jason Crow called Israel’s assurances of compliance with US law “not credible.” Last week, he organised a letter to Biden with support from around 80 Democratic lawmakers pointing out Israel’s violation of international law and obstruction of US aid deliveries to Gaza.

Comparatively, a senior Israeli official told Reuters, “If we have to fight with our fingernails, then we’ll do what we have to do.”

The Arab Weekly and agencies

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