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Biden administration advances billion-dollar arms sale to Israel

The Biden administration has told Congress it intends to move forward with a plan for the United States to sell more than $1 billion worth of new weapons to Israel, according to three Congressional aides familiar with the deal.

Notification of the sale, which would include new tactical vehicles and munitions, comes as President Biden has held back a shipment of bombs to Israel, hoping to prevent U.S.-made weapons from being used in a possible invasion of the town of Rafah, in southern Gaza. Last week, Mr. Biden said he would block the delivery of weapons such as bombs and missiles that could be fired at the densely populated area where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering.

The potential arms transfer illustrates the narrow path the Biden administration is taking with Israel, trying to prevent an attack on Rafah and limit civilian casualties in Gaza, while continuing to provide a longtime ally that it says the president has the right to defend himself. A congressional aide said Congress had known about the arms deal for months and suggested the administration had simply waited until a foreign aid package with more aid was passed for Israel before to move forward with the required notification process to Congress.

Asked about the package, reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal, the State Department referred to recent comments by Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, citing a continued commitment to providing Israel with assistance. military to defend against threats in the region.

“The president has made it clear that he would not provide certain offensive weapons for such an operation, should it occur,” Mr. Sullivan said. “That hasn’t happened yet. And we are still working with Israel to find a better way to ensure the defeat of Hamas throughout Gaza, including Rafah. »

The administration is pushing for a ceasefire deal in which Hamas would release at least some of the hostages it took on Oct. 7, when it attacked Israel and sparked the war. But Qatar’s prime minister, a key player in the negotiations, said Tuesday they were “almost at an impasse.”

Mr. Biden initially embraced Israel after the Oct. 7 attack, which killed about 1,200 people, but found himself increasingly at odds with its conduct of the war, which killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, according to the country’s health authorities. .

Yet even as he threatened to withhold additional weapons last week, he made clear that the United States would provide weapons to ensure its ally’s security, including for its Iron Dome missile defense system and for its ” ability to respond to attacks” like the one Iran launched in April.

Informal notification of the arms transfer by the State Department to the required congressional committees begins a multi-step process for key foreign affairs lawmakers to informally review the terms of the arms transfer and deliberate with the department in private. The full Congress will then consider the package.

Edward Wong reports contributed.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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