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Biden Puts Arms Shipment to Israel on Hold Amid Dispute Over Rafah Attack

President Biden suspended an arms shipment to Israel last week to prevent U.S.-made weapons from being used in a long-running attack on the city of Rafah, administration officials said Tuesday evening , a sign of the growing gap between the United States and Israel over the conduct of the war.

The president held back 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs that he feared would be dropped on Rafah, where more than 1 million Gazans have sought refuge, the officials said. The administration is considering whether to pause future transfers, including guidance kits that convert so-called dumb bombs into precision-guided munitions.

The decision to delay the delivery of the 3,500 bombs was the first time since the Hamas-led terrorist attack on October 7 that Mr. Biden used his power to reduce arms as an instrument to influence Israel’s approach to the war which followed. A number of Mr. Biden’s Democratic allies in Congress have urged him for weeks to limit or stop arms shipments to Israel, something he had refused to do until now due to his firm support for efforts to destroy Hamas.

Israeli officials revealed the weapons pause to Axios earlier this week, but U.S. officials declined to confirm it, either in briefings or privately, until Tuesday evening. That they finally did so clearly shows how administration officials are increasingly frustrated that their Israeli counterparts are ignoring American warnings against a major operation in Rafah that could result in d significant civilian losses. Confirmation of the arms pause came just hours after Israel sent tanks into the southern Gaza city.

A U.S. official said the administration began reviewing arms shipments last month when it became clear that Israel appeared to be making a decision on an operation in Rafah. Mr. Biden initially took the position that Israel should not attack Rafah without a plan to effectively minimize civilian casualties, but in recent weeks the White House has increasingly indicated that it does not even believe that such a plan was possible.

Israel has not said whether it is about to open the assault on Rafah, but has taken steps in recent days that appear to suggest it is moving in that direction. Israeli forces ordered the evacuation of 110,000 civilians from Rafah and launched airstrikes against targets in the city’s border areas in response to Hamas rockets that killed four Israeli soldiers over the weekend.

Israel on Tuesday called the entry of tanks into Rafah and the capture of the city’s border crossing with Egypt a limited operation aimed at eliminating Hamas fighters and infrastructure linked to the rocket attack. These actions do not appear to be the vanguard of the broader attack promised by Israel. But the evacuation order and limited military actions appear intended to keep pressure on Hamas while negotiators meet in Cairo to discuss a possible ceasefire deal.

Mr. Biden made no mention of his decision to hold back the bombs during a speech Tuesday at a Holocaust commemoration ceremony at the Capitol, but reiterated his support for Israel. “My commitment to the security of the Jewish people, the security of Israel and its right to exist as an independent Jewish state is unwavering, even when we disagree,” he said. -he declares.

The administration is not stopping all weapons going to Israel and, at this point, has not made a final decision on how to proceed with the bombs held back last week. In fact, officials said the administration had just approved the latest round of aid amounting to $827 million in weapons and equipment. The administration intends to send “every dollar” of the money just allocated by Congress, the officials said.

But they said they were particularly concerned about the damage the 2,000-pound bombs could cause in a dense urban area like Rafah with so many displaced civilians. And they’re still deciding whether to send the Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAM, guidance kits.

Biden administration officials appeared particularly unhappy Tuesday with Israel’s seizure of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, hampering efforts to send humanitarian aid. The move comes as U.S. officials struggle to negotiate a deal to secure the release of some hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a temporary ceasefire.

The seizure and closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the only two major entry points into the south for food, medicine and other supplies, immediately prompted international agencies to warn that Gaza’s already dire humanitarian crisis could get worse quickly. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that closing the crossings was “unacceptable.”

Tension between Mr. Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to grow in recent months. In a call a month ago, Mr. Biden first threatened to rethink American support for the war if Mr. Netanyahu did not change course. Although Mr. Biden did not explicitly say he would limit or cut off arms during the call, it was an implied possibility.

Since then, the White House has credited Israel with responding to the president’s requests by doing more to facilitate humanitarian aid. But the differences over a possible operation in Rafah are still not resolved. Israeli officials came to Washington to outline their attack plans, but did not fully address the concerns of American officials who feared civilian bloodshed.

Administration officials told their Israeli counterparts that they could not repeat the same approach used in northern Gaza, which resulted in heavy casualties and devastated much of the territory. More than 34,000 people, including fighters and civilians, have been killed during the seven months of war, according to Gaza authorities.

Israel relies heavily on the United States to arm its military, particularly for air defense batteries like those used alongside U.S. forces to shoot down almost all of the more than 300 missiles and drones fired at it by Iran last month. last. This successful defense underscored how crucial U.S. aid has been to Israel’s security.

Administration officials have long made clear that they will not stop defensive arming. But last week’s pause on the bombs came just as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken prepares to deliver a report to Congress this week assessing whether Israel has used American weapons in accordance with American and international law. .

The highly anticipated report could set the stage for a fierce debate over U.S. responsibility for Israel’s war, which has already sparked widespread protests on college campuses. The finding that Israel violated the law would exponentially increase pressure on Mr. Biden to further curb arms shipments, while the finding that Israel fought its war legally would surely fuel protests and spark protests. new complaints from congressional Democrats.

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With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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