up in arms

Congressional lawmakers urge Biden administration to quickly reverse any delays of weapons transfers to Israel

The sale in question would cover 6,500 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which turn bombs into precision-guided weapons, and an unknown number of Small Diameter Bombs

USAF via Getty Images

In this U.S. Air Force handout, a U.S. Air Force F-15E carries the Boeing Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) system August 14, 2003 near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are urging the Biden administration to reverse course on any delayed congressionally approved weapons transfers to Israel. 

Reports have circulated in recent days that the Biden administration is holding up the pending sale of two types of Boeing precision bombs to Israel “to send a political message” about U.S. disapproval of a Rafah invasion.

While the U.S. has not formally declined the sale, the administration has refused to take any action to move the sale forward, thus preventing the weapons transfers. 

The sale in question would cover 6,500 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which turn bombs into precision-guided weapons, and an unknown number of Small Diameter Bombs. Congress was first informed of the deal in January, though a senior administration official said on Tuesday that discussions on pausing additional weapons sales began in April when they claim “Israel seemed to approach a decision on Rafah without fully addressing U.S. concern.”

“We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment,” the official said of the 6,500 bombs. 

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who was on a trip to Israel and other Middle East countries when reports of the arms delays first emerged, said that the delay shows President Joe “Biden is abandoning Israel and really backing off of what he described as his iron-clad promise to Israel.”

She called it “ridiculous” that the administration spent months pushing aid to Israel and other allies through Congress only to then delay the delivery of weapons. Ernst was also frustrated that she found out about the delay through the news, rather than a notification from the administration to Congress.

Ernst, who visited the Middle East alongside Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC), said that leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed expressed concern about the durability of U.S. engagement and commitments.

“Every stop we made, every country that we visited, what we heard from leadership was that America’s leadership right now is imperative,” she said. “They need us to step up. And President Biden is either just failing or he’s incapable of doing that.”

Ernst and Budd also penned a letter to Biden urging him to “immediately restart the weapons shipments to Israel today as it continues to fight Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Iran-backed threats.”

“We are shocked that your administration has reportedly decided to withhold critical ammunition to Israel,” the duo wrote. “You promised your commitment to Israel was ironclad. Pausing much-needed military support to our closest Middle Eastern ally signals otherwise. We are deeply concerned that your administration failed to notify Congress about this decision.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told JI on Tuesday that he planned to send Biden a similar letter this week, though he did not go into further detail. Some GOP senators said they had heard about Graham’s letter as of late Tuesday, though most said they were unaware and would inquire with his office about getting their names added. 

The executive director of Advancing American Freedom, former Vice President Mike Pence’s policy group, called on GOP senators to hold all of Biden’s nominations until he releases the military aid to Israel.

“President Biden’s unilateral halt on military aid to Israel is unconscionable. Democrats impeached President Trump for less,” AAF executive director Paul Teller said. “Congressional Republicans must pull out every stop to hold President Biden accountable starting with Senate Republicans refusing to confirm ANY Biden nominee until the Biden Administration releases its hold on aid to Israel.”

Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) condemned the reports and called on the Biden administration to “immediately explain its inexplicable decision to Congress and reaffirm its commitment to supporting Israel, just as Congress did when we passed $17 billion in new aid to Israel last month and when the House passed my Antisemitism Awareness Act last week by a vote of 320 to 91.”

A few Democrats distanced themselves from the newly discovered delays, with Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) telling Fox News, “I don’t think we should be withholding any kind of munitions” to Israel.

“If there should be any kind of conditions, it should be on Hamas and its enablers and its benefactors,” Fetterman added.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), who spoke to JI on Monday before additional details of the delay emerged, said that “people calling for a cessation of arms to Israel are wrong,” referring primarily to Democratic colleagues.

“Israel is fighting a war for its existence” against Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, Schneider said. He called it appropriate to pressure Israel to increase aid into Gaza and “de-escalate” in the West Bank, “but those who are talking about leaving Israel defenseless, effectively calling on Israel to surrender, are wrong.”

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