U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has approved an emergency weapons sale to Israel, the second one in a month, as Israel continues its war against Hamas in Gaza under growing international criticism.
Blinken’s emergency determination covers a $147.5 million sale of equipment and bypasses the congressional review requirement for foreign military sales, the State Department said Friday. The equipment includes fuses, charges and primers necessary to make the 155 mm shells that Israel has already purchased, work.
“Given the urgency of Israel’s defensive needs, the secretary notified Congress that he had exercised his delegated authority to determine an emergency existed necessitating the immediate approval of the transfer,” the department said.
The State Department sought to counter criticism of the sale on human rights grounds by saying it was in constant touch with Israel to emphasize the importance of minimizing civilian casualties, which have soared since Israel began its response to the Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7.
Senators demand ‘public explanation’
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine criticized the State Department’s circumvention of Congress in approving a $147.5 million arms sale to Israel. Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, demanded a “public explanation of the rationale behind this decision.”
“Congress should have full visibility over the weapons we transfer to any other nation,” said a press release from Kaine’s office on Saturday. “Unnecessarily bypassing Congress means keeping the American people in the dark.”
Josh Paul, a former State Department arms expert who resigned in protest in October over the Biden administration’s handling of the conflict in Israel and Gaza, told The Washington Post that Blinken’s decision to rush the unguided munitions enables Israel to continue the type of operations in Gaza that have “led to so many Palestinian civilian deaths.”
“This is shameful, craven, and should frankly turn the stomach of any decent human being,” The Washington Post cites him as saying.
“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” the State Department said in a statement on Friday. “This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives.”
The statement also said “we continue to strongly emphasize to the government of Israel that they must not only comply with international humanitarian law, but also take every feasible step to prevent harm to civilians.”
‘Hamas hides behind civilians’
On December 9, Secretary Blinken approved the first U.S. emergency weapons’ sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million. Such emergency determinations bypassing Congress are rare but not unprecedented, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval.
“Hamas hides behind civilians and has embedded itself among the civilian population, but that does not lessen Israel’s responsibility and strategic imperative to distinguish between civilians and Hamas terrorists as it conducts its military operations,” the State Department said.
Blinken’s emergency determinations have come as President Joe Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs remains stalled in Congress, caught up in a debate over U.S. immigration policy and border security. Some Democratic lawmakers have spoken of making the proposed $14.3 billion in American assistance to its Mideast ally contingent on concrete steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza during the war with Hamas.
At least four administrations have used the authority since 1979. President George H.W. Bush’s administration used it during the Gulf War to get arms quickly to Saudi Arabia.