(Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Nov 10, 2023
Democratic U.S. lawmakers, including prominent progressives, are pushing back against an attempt by the Biden administration to circumvent congressional oversight of arms transfers to Israel, which has received an unspecified quantity of American weaponry since the October 7 Hamas-led attack.
Members of the watchdog group Women for Weapons Trade Transparency (WWTT) reported last week that the White House's October 20 supplemental funding request "sought permission to unilaterally blanket-approve the future sale of military equipment and weapons—like ballistic missiles and artillery ammunition—to Israel without notifying Congress."
The waiver would apply to the $3.5 billion earmarked in the request for Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Israel. As the WWTT members explained in In These Times: "This means the Israeli government would be able to purchase up to $3.5 billion in military articles and services in complete secrecy. The House included the waiver language in a bill that splits off Israeli military aid from the rest of the package."
Josh Paul, a former senior State Department official who resigned in protest last month over the Biden administration's decision to rush weapons to Israel, called the proposal "an insult to congressional oversight prerogatives."
"I've never seen anything like it," Paul told the WWTT members.
The White House's waiver request has drawn backlash from congressional Democrats, including some lawmakers who support arming Israel as it carries out massive atrocities in the Gaza Strip and faces growing accusations of genocide.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, toldThe Washington Post on Thursday that he opposes "the administration's request to write into law waivers of congressional notification of foreign military financing, including for Israel."
"There is no reason we cannot both ensure needed U.S. assistance is provided to Israel in an expeditious manner and ensure Congress is able to fulfill its constitutional oversight duty," said Meeks.
Progressive critics of the administration's unconditional support for the Israeli government have also spoken out against the White House's attempt to evade congressional oversight of military assistance.
"At a time when thousands of civilians are being killed by weapons provided by the U.S. government, the American people deserve to be fully informed about what is being provided to other countries, including Israel, with their tax dollars," Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), the lead sponsor of a cease-fire resolution in the House, told the Post. "The Biden administration should provide the same transparency around arms transfers to Israel that it has for Ukraine and other countries."
As The Intercept's Ken Klippenstein reported earlier this week, the administration has done nothing of the kind.
"Whereas the Biden administration released a three-page itemized list of weapons provided to Ukraine, down to the exact number of rounds, the information released about weapons sent to Israel could fit in a single sentence," Klippenstein wrote.
Israel is the top beneficiary of U.S. weaponry and military aid, receiving nearly $4 billion a year under a deal inked during the Obama presidency.
In the wake of Hamas' October 7 attack, the U.S. quickly moved to transfer small-diameter bombs, Iron Dome interceptor missiles, and other munitions to the Israeli military.
On October 31, the State Department approved a $320 million sale of guided bomb equipment to Israel, despite a directive barring U.S. arms sales to countries that are "more likely than not" to use the weapons to attack civilians.
The Biden administration has admitted to being intentionally vague in divulging the exact quantity of weapons it has sent Israel over the past month.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told reporters on October 23 that U.S. military assistance is flowing to Israel "on a near-daily basis" and that the administration is "being careful not to quantify or get into too much detail about what they're getting—for their own operational security purposes, of course."
But experts toldThe Intercept that the administration's stated justification for shrouding the arms transfers in secrecy is bogus.
"The notion that it would in any way harm the Israeli military's operational security to provide more information is a cover story for efforts to reduce information on the types of weapons being supplied to Israel and how they are being used," said William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft who focuses on the arms industry.
"I think the purposeful lack of transparency over what weapons the U.S. is supplying to Israel 'on a daily basis' is tied to the larger administration policy of downplaying the extent to which Israel will use those weapons to commit war crimes and kill civilians in Gaza," Hartung added.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told the Post on Thursday that the administration's refusal to be forthright about new arms transfers to Israel is unacceptable.
"This is particularly concerning, given the wanton killing of civilians, and constant reports of war crimes and human rights abuses, likely using U.S. weapons," said Omar.
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