Biden administration bypasses Congress on weapons sales to Israel


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The administration of United States President Joe Biden has once again bypassed Congress to greenlight an emergency weapons sale to Israel, which has only intensified and broadened its attacks on the Gaza Strip despite growing international outrage.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress that he had made a second emergency determination in less than a month, covering a $147.5m sale of equipment to Israel, the State Department said on Friday.

“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,” it said.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to ensure Israel is able to defend itself against the threats it faces.”

The package includes ancillary items, including fuses, charges and primers that Israel would require to make the 155mm shells that it had previously purchased, function.

Friday’s emergency determination, which is rare but has been used by at least four previous US administrations, means that a requirement for a potentially lengthy congressional review for foreign military sales will be bypassed.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane said it was important to point out the broader context of the messaging.

“We’ve been hearing from all the top Biden administration officials for weeks that it is time for Israel to move to a lower-intensity conflict. In essence, stop the mass bombing. Stop the mass deaths of civilians,” she said.

“So, in that context – knowing that is what they say they want – they are now selling to Israel the exaction munitions they need to continue a high-intensity campaign.”

Culhane reported that Israel will also be purchasing 155mm M107 projectiles, which are artillery shells that will cause widespread destruction in a densely populated area such as Gaza.

“They didn’t say exactly how many [shells] were going to be in this $147.5m package. But, in previous packages, it really does mean that thousands and thousands of bombs will be going to Israel.”

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On December 9, the administration made another emergency determination to approve the sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106m.

This comes as Biden’s request for an enormous $106bn package that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and other perceived national security needs has yet to pass Congress, as it is entangled in a debate over US immigration and border security policies.

The Biden administration has tried to counter criticism over the mounting death toll in Gaza and continued US arms sales to Israel by saying it constantly maintains contact with Israel to stress the importance of minimising civilian casualties.

However, Luciana Zaccara, an associate professor of Gulf politics at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera it was pursuing a “dual-track” approach when it comes to the war.

“On the one hand they are trying to convince the public opinion that the US is really concerned about civilian casualties but also they keep sustaining Israel (militarily),” he said. “It is totally contradicting … it is hard to understand how this is in the national interest.”

The policy was especially perplexing in light of “mounting pressure” in the US, including among Democrats, against the war as civilian casualties in Gaza continue to rise, Zaccara said.

Some Democratic lawmakers have suggested further significant aid to Israel should be contingent on concrete promises by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to curb civilian casualties in Gaza.

More than 21,000 Palestinians have now been killed in the besieged enclave since October 7, most of them children and women, in what has been widely described as collective punishment. Thousands more are missing.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), said on Saturday that Israeli authorities continue to impose “severe restrictions” on humanitarian access despite deliveries of aid from Egypt and through the Rafah crossing.

He also said they are “creating a stream of baseless misinformation” to accuse aid agencies over gaps in deliveries.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned again that the conflict could spread to the wider region if not halted immediately.

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Biden administration bypasses Congress on weapons sales to Israel

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