US approves bombs, jets for Israel amid threat of offensive in Gaza’s Rafah

White House authorises transfer of $2.5bn of warplanes and weapons to Israel, The Washington Post reports.

People recover the body of a child from a destroyed building following Israeli air strikes
People recover a child's body from a destroyed building following Israeli air strikes in Rafah, Gaza, on March 29, 2024 [Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images]

The United States has greenlighted the transfer of billions of dollars worth of bombs and fighter jets to Israel, The Washington Post reported, even as it publicly expresses concerns about the long-threatened Israeli invasion of Gaza’s Rafah and the rising civilian casualties in the enclave.

The new arms package includes more than 1,800 MK84 2,000-pound bombs and 500 MK82 500-pound bombs, according to Pentagon and Department of State officials, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

The 2,000-pound bombs, which can inflict damage to people up to 1,000 feet (300 metres) away, have been “linked to previous mass-casualty events throughout Israel’s military campaign in Gaza”, the report said. The US gives $3.8bn in annual military assistance to its longtime ally.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett said the transfer “amounts to about $2.5bn”, adding that “this is taking place despite a growing rift between both the Israeli and US governments”.

The US continues to provide weapons packages to Israel while pushing for an end to hostilities in the five-month war and on Monday did not veto a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and the release of captives.

While Washington is publicly pressuring Israel to “dial back” its war in Gaza, its policy moves are sending an entirely different signal, Marc Owen Jones, associate professor of Middle East studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, told Al Jazeera.

In the face of widespread international condemnation, including from Washington, Israel has said it will soon launch a ground invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip that borders Egypt and where about 1.5 million forcibly displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

On Saturday, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticised the US, posting on X that “demanding [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to stop killing civilians and supplying him with weapons is an unprecedented principled and moral contradiction”.

The ministry expressed regret at the “ongoing failure” on the part of the UN Security Council and of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to bring Israel to respect their decisions.

US senators have urged President Joe Biden to cut military aid to Israel until it ensures access to humanitarian aid for Gaza. Many countries and rights groups have called for Israel to obey an ICJ order to allow the unimpeded delivery of aid into Gaza, where famine has set in.

US Senator Bernie Sanders slammed the move as “obscene”.

“The US cannot beg Netanyahu to stop bombing civilians one day and the next send him thousands more 2,000-pound bombs that can level entire city blocks,” he said in a post on X.

“We must end our complicity: No more bombs to Israel.”

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called on the international community to stop supplying Israel with weapons.

“UN agencies are telling horror stories of suffering in Gaza. Over 30,000 killed. Over two million people starved. These facts shame the world,” he posted on X.

“Weapons must stop flowing to Israel. Israel must be forced to end this catastrophe. This is what international law, what human values, demand,” he said.

The White House declined to comment on the weapons transfers.

‘Business as usual’

Biden on Friday acknowledged “the pain being felt” by many Arab Americans over the war in Gaza. Still, he has promised continued support for Israel despite an increasingly public rift with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu abruptly cancelled a planned meeting between US and Israeli officials to review Israeli plans for an operation in Rafah, following Washington’s abstention from the Security Council vote.

In a sharp reversal, he requested for the meeting to be rescheduled, and it is expected to take place as early as Monday, broadcaster CNN reported.

The unfettered assistance to Israel, which aid groups say is hindering aid to Gaza as famine-like conditions spread, is undermining Biden’s efforts to reposition the US as a “moral authority in the world,” Owen Jones told Al Jazeera.

“We need to bear in mind that just a few weeks ago, the US passed a federal funding bill that both reaffirms military aid to Israel with over $3bn and cuts funding to UNRWA,” the main group providing aid in Gaza, he said, referring to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.

“The US’s policy is actually just business as usual.

“Biden is breaking, or at least not enforcing, the Leahy Laws,” he said, referring to US human rights laws that bar the US from supplying weapons to countries plausibly engaged in rights abuses.

“How is Biden going to position himself as any kind of moral authority when he is contravening laws that are meant to defend the human rights of people like those in Palestine?”

Reporting from Rafah, Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud said that Israel’s threats of expanding the ground invasion to Rafah City “are exhausting people here who are tired of living in a state of panic”.

The fear Rafah will suffer the same fate as Gaza City or Khan Younis, “whose public facilities and infrastructure have been obliterated”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies