Antony Blinken and Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media in Tel Aviv on October 12, 2023.

(Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Democrats Demand Blinken Explain Unapproved Arms Transfers to Israel

"It is highly unusual for the president to bypass congressional oversight through an emergency declaration," the lawmakers noted after the Biden administration did so twice.

After the Biden administration twice bypassed Congress to approve arms transfers to Israel as it wages a genocidal war on Gaza, 19 U.S. lawmakers on Monday asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to explain the "highly unusual" transactions.

"The Arms Export Control Act (AECA) requires the State Department, on behalf of the president, to provide Congress advance notification of government-to-government foreign military sales of defense equipment. That notification is designed to allow Congress the opportunity to raise questions or objections before a sale is complete," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Blinken led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Jim McGovern, both Massachusetts Democrats.

The AECA also contains an exemption to the notification requirement if the secretary of state certifies the existence of an "emergency."

However, the letter asserts that "it is highly unusual for the president to bypass congressional oversight through an emergency declaration."

"In fact," the legislators noted, "since the AECA was passed into law, an emergency declaration authority has only been used 18 times in nearly 50 years."

On December 9, Blinken informed Congress of an emergency determination expediting the transfer of 13,000 rounds of tank ammunition, even though lawmakers had not yet reviewed the transaction.

Then, citing the "urgency of Israel's defensive needs," the secretary of state on December 29 notified lawmakers of a new emergency determination for the sale of $147.5 million in equipment including fuses, charges, and primers for 155mm artillery shells that Israel already purchased from the United States.

The lawmakers said they are "troubled by the decision to provide equipment for 155mm shells, which over 30 U.S.-based civil society organizations warned poses 'a grave risk to civilians' and are 'inherently indiscriminate' when used in densely populated areas like Gaza."

U.S.-supplied weapons have caused many of the more than 100,000 Palestinian casualties—dead, wounded, and missing—during the 116-day Israeli assault on Gaza. The letter acknowledges that the bulk of Palestinian victims have been civilians, "including thousands of children."

As the lawmakers noted:

The Leahy Laws set a clear standard that the U.S. should not provide assistance to foreign security force units if there are credible allegations that a unit has committed a "gross violation of human rights." In addition to those provisions, the Biden administration released a revised conventional arms transfer policy in February 2023 that "makes it clear that under this administration, the United States will utilize a holistic approach to conventional arms transfers and adherence to our agreements on the use of U.S.-origin defense equipment by our allies and partners, compliance with the law of armed conflict, and respect for human rights."

The letter asks Blinken to answer a series of questions regarding how the State Department determined an emergency existed, whether it adhered to its conventional arms transfer policy, and what measures were implemented to reduce risks to civilians.

"Congress and the American public deserve thorough answers on how this policy was applied for these two emergency transfers," the lawmakers wrote. "Use of a national emergency waiver does not exempt the U.S. government from assessing whether arms sales are consistent with these policies."

In a Tuesday press conference, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller insisted that "the process that the secretary followed is the process that the law prescribes."

"I see this described all the time as 'bypassing Congress,' but in fact what we're doing is following the statute that Congress passed," he added.

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