Biden Administration Informs Congress of $735M Weapons Sale to Israel Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm self-propelled howitzer towards the Gaza Strip from their position along the border with the Palestinian enclave, on May 17, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
By Charlie McCarthy | Tuesday, 18 May 2021 08:00 AM
The Biden administration notified Congress of its intent to sell $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel before the country’s current violence with Hamas intensified, it was reported Monday.
Some progressive Democrats have expressed concerns about the sale, which Congress was notified of on May 5, three sources told the Washington Post.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said it would be "appalling" if the administration went through with the sale, CNN reported.
"It would be appalling for the Biden Administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians," Ilhan said in a statement. "If this goes through this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a ceasefire."
Congress learned of the sale nearly a week before Hamas, the terrorism-designated organization that controls the Gaza strip, began intense rocket attacks against Israel that reportedly have killed at least 10 Israelis.
Since then, Israeli has conducted airstrikes that have killed nearly 200 Palestinians. It’s the worst crisis between the two sides since the 2014 Hamas-Israeli war lasted about two months.
The Biden administration, citing Israel’s right to defend itself, initially avoided calling for an immediate cease-fire.
Progressive Democrats, however, have questioned U.S. support of Israel and Netanyahu.
"We cannot just condemn rockets fired by Hamas and ignore Israel’s state-sanctioned police violence against Palestinians — including unlawful evictions, violent attacks on protesters & the murder of Palestinian children," Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said. "U.S. aid should not be funding this violence."
A spokesperson for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., confirmed the commercial deal in which Boeing will provide the weapons to Israel.
Some Foreign Affairs lawmakers were surprised when they first learned of the sale this past weekend, according to a Post source.
"We're lucky to catch this weapons sale,” a Democrat aide who works on the committee said. "There's zero transparency on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and sensitive deals are regularly approved without scrutiny.
"There's truth to the notion that there's major shifts in the party about how we rubber stamp Israel writ large."
Israel still has support from other Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.Y., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., are among lawmakers who have said Israel has a right to defend itself.
Menendez, though, expressed concern after after an airstrike targeted and destroyed a building housing the Associated Press and other media outlets in Gaza City.
"I am deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets," Menendez tweeted Saturday.
The administration is required to inform Congress officially of such sales, and lawmakers have 15 days to object with a nonbinding resolution of disapproval. The official notification usually comes only after Congress has informally agreed.
A Post source said the sale ultimately would be approved by Congress in all likelihood.
The proposed sale centers around Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMS), kits that transform so-called "dumb" bombs into precision-guided missiles. Israel previously has purchased JDAMS from the U.S.
The Gaza airstrikes have been conducted with precision-guided missiles, Israel has said, to avoid hitting civilians. However, the Israelis accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields in their heavily populated enclaves.
Since World War II, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, according to CNN. The U.S. pledged to provide the Israelis with $38 billion in military aid from 2019 to 2028 in a 2016 agreement.