Thursday, July 25, 2024
U.S. war aid of .5 billion discussed during ‘productive’ Gallant visit

U.S. war aid of $6.5 billion discussed during ‘productive’ Gallant visit

World News

The United States has provided $6.5 billion in security assistance to Israel since its war with Hamas started Oct. 7, with nearly half of that amount flowing during May. Those previously unannounced figures were part of discussions this week with a visiting delegation headed by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, amid Israeli allegations that the Biden administration has been slow-rolling assistance.

“This is a massive, massive undertaking,” said a senior administration official, who disclosed the totals as an indication of the depth and complexity of U.S. support for Israel.

To counter the Israeli charge that the Americans had placed “bottlenecks” in the arms flow — remarks repeated publicly over the past week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and described as “perplexing” and “inaccurate” by the White House — U.S. arms transfer experts went through “hundreds of separate items” with counterparts accompanying Gallant on his four-day visit, the official said.

Although scheduled before Netanyahu’s comments, Gallant’s trip was in part an effort to smooth over increasingly tense relations and show a different Israeli attitude toward American aid.

The defense minister, who has had his own clashes with Netanyahu, told reporters at a Tuesday briefing that “our ties with the United States are the second-most important element for Israel’s security,” after Israel’s own military. “We need American diplomatic and political support, power projection, supply of munition and more.”

Claiming “significant progress,” Gallant said that “obstacles were removed and bottlenecks were addressed in order to advance a variety of issues, and more specifically the topic of force build up and munition supply.”

The senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the visit on the condition of anonymity under rules set by the White House, appeared to step back from the administration’s previous flat rejection of Netanyahu’s charge.

“In terms of bottlenecks, it is a complicated, bureaucratic system that we have for good reason … making sure we fully fulfill all of our obligations to Congress, laws, procedures and regulations.” But, the official acknowledged, “there are issues on the Israeli side, in terms of things they might want, which might not have been totally clear.”

The visit was “highly constructive and productive,” the official said, thanking Gallant for his “professional approach.”

The Times of Israel called the White House praise, and Gallant’s claims of “significant progress” on outstanding issues “a rebuke of Netanyahu.” The Biden administration has been irritated by Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation, first advanced by Republican lawmakers, to address a joint session of Congress in late July.

Amid the steady flow of arms, the administration continues to withhold a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs out of what President Biden has said is concern they would be used in heavily populated urban areas.

Administration officials and Gallant declined to discuss the specifics of their discussions. “I believe that allies must do everything to solve issues in closed rooms,” Gallant said. “This is what I’m trying to do.”

During his visit, Gallant met with the full panoply of Biden’s senior national security officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“They reviewed the unprecedented support for Israel since the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7, to include the direct defense of Israel by the U.S. military and a coalition of partners against an Iranian attack in April, as well as preparations for any subsequent contingencies,” including diplomatic efforts to avoid war with Lebanon and the U.S. commitment to Israel’s defense if those efforts fail, the official said.

In every meeting, officials said, they also discussed stalemated efforts to close a U.S.-backed deal for a Gaza cease-fire and the return of Israeli hostages. Although announced by Biden nearly a month ago as an Israeli initiative, Netanyahu has publicly questioned some aspects of the proposal. Gallant said that “the State of Israel, the defense establishment — we are all committed to and firmly backing the president’s deal.” Hamas has demanded amendments, including a firm Israeli commitment to a permanent cessation of the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Gallant also discussed the Israeli military’s upcoming switch to what he has called “Phase 3” in its war against Hamas, a transition to low-intensity conflict to root out remaining pockets of fighters in Gaza and “enabling a governing alternative … that isn’t Israel and isn’t Hamas.”

That governing body — in which vetted, local Palestinians would be appointed to govern the territory while Israel continues to provide security — remains vague. “It is a long and complex process that depends on many things,” Gallant said, “including the international community, which must participate and not only criticize.”

The Israeli proposal falls far short of the Biden administration’s plan, which sees a future Gazan government run by the existing Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and eventual transition to separate Palestinian and Israeli states.

Other topics of discussion with senior U.S. officials included Iran’s escalating production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel, and what has become an increasingly nasty dispute between Israel and the United Nations over the distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Israel has labeled false international assessments of near-starvation conditions inside the enclave, and has long blamed the United Nations for “incompetence” in distributing assistance to civilians, many of whom have been left without adequate shelter, food, water and medical care.

That problem has grown more acute in southern Gaza since Israel last month launched a military offensive in Rafah, the southernmost city where more than 1 million people had fled seeking shelter from an Israeli offensive farther north. Although aid-laden trucks are entering Gaza through a crossing from southern Israel, the United Nations and other distributors have said they are unable to move the food aid inside the enclave.

While there are ongoing impediments due to continuing combat, destroyed roads and a dearth of fuel, much of the current slowdown has been blamed by U.N. and U.S. officials on lawlessness by desperate civilians and criminal gangs who have attacked and looted distribution vehicles.

“The World Food Program and the U.N. drivers are obviously concerned about getting attacked,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday. Representatives from the Israel Defense Forces and COGAT, the Israeli agency that deals with the occupied territories, who accompanied Gallant to Washington met with U.S. aid officials here this week to try to work out a solution, including what U.S. officials said was the provision of protective equipment and communications technology that Israel has not allowed to enter Gaza.

But in Israel, a government spokesperson Wednesday blamed the problem entirely on the United Nations. “We will take no lessons whatsoever from supporters of Jew-haters, whether in the 1940s, in the 1970s, or in 2024,” government spokesman David Mencer said in a news briefing. “It is unfortunately UNRWA and others, and the World Food Program is another one, who simply spend their time perpetuating this conflict rather than pulling their finger out and actually doing the job which they were designed to do,” he said, referring to the two main U.N. assistance agencies in Gaza.

For years, the United States has supplied $3.3 billion in security aid annually to Israel. In April, Congress approved Biden’s request for an additional $26 billion in wartime assistance, humanitarian aid and to support U.S. operations in the region.

But until now, the administration has been reluctant to quantify the total amount of security assistance it has expedited to Israel since the war began, telling reporters only that Washington was providing its closest Middle East ally with the equipment necessary to defend itself.

In the early weeks of the conflict, emergency shipments to Israel were expedited aboard U.S. military aircraft. In a few instances at the end of last year, the administration also invoked emergency authorities to bypass Congress in order to approve the sale of arms and ammunition to Israel, a move that prompted objections from some Democratic lawmakers about the fast-rising civilian death toll in Gaza as Israel stepped up its bombing campaign and ground operations.

In May, the administration made a rare decision to pause a shipment of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs to Israel, reflecting concern about the high toll of civilian deaths. The pause prompted outrage from pro-Israel Democratic donors, including billionaire Haim Saban, and from Republicans such as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton who called it a “de facto arms embargo on Israel.”

At that time, the administration assured members of Congress that huge amounts of military aid were continuing to flow to Israel, but declined to publicly disclose a total figure. In an internal memo between House Democratic leadership and rank-and-file members of Congress obtained by The Washington Post, Democratic leaders said Biden’s pause of the heavy bombs represented “less than 1% of the total military support provided by the U.S. to Israel since the beginning of this conflict,” an early indication of the massive amount of security assistance.

Administration officials have said that the withheld shipment of the large bombs is still under review.

John Hudson contributed to this report.

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