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Senate Republicans renew efforts to override Israel arms hold

Sen. Jim Risch is leading a group of Republicans introducing legislation seeking greater oversight over, and a path to block, the administration from freezing arms transfers to Israel

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Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on April 26, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Amid a renewed row between Israel and the United States over the U.S.’ withholding of an arms shipment to Israel, Senate Republicans are introducing legislation seeking greater oversight over, and an ability to block, such actions by the administration.

Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID), Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are leading the Maintaining Our Ironclad Commitment to Israel’s Security Act, a bill first introduced on a bipartisan basis in the House, where it garnered support from nine of the 24 Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The bill urges the administration to allow all previously approved arms sales to Israel to proceed, and would require the administration to notify Congress 15 days before withholding arms, with an explanation of the decision and analysis of how it would impact U.S. and Israeli security. Congress would then have the opportunity to pass a joint resolution of disapproval, blocking such a hold. 

“The Biden administration’s decision to unilaterally pause a shipment of weapons to Israel in May without any prior notification or consultation with Congress not only broke with procedure, but also sent a message to our allies and adversaries alike that the United States cannot be relied upon to follow through on its commitments,” Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “This legislation rightfully reasserts Congress’ role in overseeing arms sales to Israel.”

The arms sales dispute came to a head again earlier this week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu filmed a video saying he had confronted Secretary of State Tony Blinken about the arms hold. Netanyahu said in the video that it was “inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”

The administration, meanwhile, has asserted that only one shipment of 2,000-lb. bombs has been withheld.

Risch and aides told reporters last month that the administration had been slow-walking a series of other arms sales — which, unlike the bombs, had not yet been formally approved— to Israel since December and January, and that some congressional Democrats were also holding up sales.

It’s not clear where those sales stand now, but some sales now seem to be moving forward, and Democrats have reportedly signed off on at least one of the sales, of F-15 fighter jets, though the administration has not advanced that sale further since receiving congressional approval.

Meanwhile, in a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) accused the administration of “bureaucratic sleight-of-hand” to hold back aid from Israel, “deliberately misleading the American people and insulting a key ally.”
He said the administration is intentionally delaying the review process for other sales, and had caved to pressure from progressive Democrats to stop expediting arms sales to Israel by bypassing congressional review as it had repeatedly earlier in the war.

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