By Tom Ozimek
The Biden administration has used an emergency authority to greenlight the sale to Israel of about 14,000 tank shells without congressional review, the Pentagon said on Dec. 9.
Using an Arms Export Control Act emergency declaration, Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved the sale on Dec. 8 of thousands of 120mm M830A1 high explosive anti-tank multi-purpose with tracer (MPAT) tank cartridges and related equipment to the Israeli military, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Israel had requested permission to buy 13,981 of the munitions from the United States, along with some engineering, technical, and logistics support services, all at an estimated cost of $106.5 million.
No additional U.S. government or contractor representatives will be assigned to Israel as part of the sale, with the items covered by the agreement to come from U.S. Army stocks.
“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” the State Department said in a statement. “This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives.”
Bigger Arms Sale?
The agency said that the sale would have no negative effect on U.S. defense readiness and that Israel plans to use the enhanced capability to deter regional threats and bolster its homeland defense.
Mr. Blinken provided “detailed justification to Congress that an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale to the Government of Israel of the above defense articles and services in the national security interests of the United States, thereby waiving the Congressional review requirements under Section 36(b) of the Arms Export Control Act,” the agency said.
The materiel is part of a speculated bigger sale of arms to Israel that the Biden administration is asking Congress to approve.
The larger package is said to be worth more than $500 million and includes 45,000 shells for Israel’s Merkava tanks, according to a Reuters report on Dec. 8 that cited named and unidentified sources, including current and former U.S. officials.
Josh Paul, a former State Department official who in October resigned from the State Department in protest over what he called the administration’s “blind support” for Israel amid the Gaza offensive, told Reuters that the State Department was pushing congressional committees to approve the transaction quickly.
A State Department spokesperson said, “We do not confirm or comment on proposed defense transfers or sales until they have been formally notified to Congress.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Reuters that congressional review is a critical step for large weapons sales.
“The administration should not consider short-circuiting the already short time frame for congressional review of this or any other arms transfer,” he said.
Mr. Van Hollen is among about a dozen senators pushing for an amendment that would require that U.S. military aid to Israel—and other countries—come with conditions that the weapons are used in accordance with U.S. law, international humanitarian law, and the law of armed conflict.
Mr. Paul said in a post on social media, “The ongoing expedited provision of lethal military assistance to Israel continues our complicity in what I believe to be war crimes.”
“It also continues to shred the reputation of the United States around the world and our ability to advance the values that we claim to espouse, and which I believe in: human rights, liberty, and justice for all,” he added.
The request comes amid concerns about civilian deaths tied to the use of U.S. weapons in Israel’s military operation in Gaza.
Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, invaded and brutally attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 Israelis and capturing hundreds more.
In response, Israel invaded Gaza; the Hamas-controlled Palestinian health ministry has said that the death toll in Gaza has risen to at least 17,700, with another 48,780 wounded.
Reuters contributed to this report.