US to go ahead with $1 bln in new arms to Israel despite Rafah concerns: Reports

May 15, 2024

The Biden Administration has told Congress it plans to send more than $1 billion in new US weapons to Israel, according o media reports, amid concerns over the Israeli military’s planned ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The move comes despite the US being opposed to the invasion, and last week it had even paused a shipment of bombs to Israel over concerns civilians would be killed if used in densely populated areas. Among the demands by large-scale pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the United States is an end to American arms to Israel.

The package, confirmed by US media, would include $700m in tank ammunition, $500m in tactical vehicles and $60m in mortar rounds, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The White House notification is part of a process mandated by federal law when a US arms sales to a foreign nation exceeds a set amount. Last month, Congress approved a package of military aid providing $95 billion to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

On Tuesday, Israeli tanks advanced deeper into residential areas in the south-east of Rafah and are thought to be about a mile from the centre.

Meanwhile, medical services are dwindling. Aid agency Doctors Without Borders said they had stopped operating at one of the area’s field hospitals because it was too dangerous to stay.

The White House notification is likely to spark objections from some members, although Congress has never successfully blocked an announced arms sale drawn from already approved funds.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen was critical of the decision and told the Washington Post the US should not proceed with any additional arms transfers until the Netanyahu government had met President Biden’s concerns about Rafah and the provision of humanitarian assistance.

A US State department report last week found that some American-made weapons provided to Israel may have been used in breach of international law.

While the report was a clear rebuke of some Israeli operations in Gaza, it stopped short of definitively saying that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) campaign had breached international law.

It added that assurances it had received from Israel about adhering to the legal use of US weapons were “credible and reliable”.

The Israeli arms-sale notification to Congress is the first since Mr Biden’s administration paused arms transfers to Israel last week.

He said he had delayed the shipment of 2,000 lbs (900kg) bombs to Israel because of how they might be used in such a ground operation.

Asked by CNN about the delay, Biden said: “Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs.”

Weapons transfers to Israel have become a political liability President Biden ahead of this November’s 2024 White House election.

News of the latest arms package emerged soon after voting ended in a presidential primary election in Maryland, where activists had urged voters to register a protest ballot against what they see as Biden’s favouritism towards Israel over the Gaza war.

Republican lawmakers in Congress have introduced legislation intended to prevent any further pauses in weapons shipments to the US ally.

The House of Representatives this week will vote on a measure that requires the State Department and Defence Department to ensure the “prompt delivery” of military equipment.

The White House has vowed to veto the bill, if it manages to pass the Senate, which is unlikely.

Nearly 450,000 people had been forcibly displaced from Rafah since May 6, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said in a statement. Another 100,000 people have evacuated from the north in the face of fierce new attacks.

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, at least 35,173 people have been killed and 79,061 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7.