US delays sending Joint Direct Attack Munitions to Israel: Report

Wall Street Journal reports Biden administration has not followed up with official notification about proposed sale of precision arms.

A US aviation ordnanceman makes a final check on a 500-pound JDAM satellite guided bomb on the wing of an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet
An aviation ordinanceman makes a final check on an 500 pound JDAM satellite guided bomb on the wing of an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet [File: Yves Herman/Reuters]

The United States government has delayed the sale of thousands of precision weapons to its ally Israel amid its war on Gaza, a report says quoting current and former US officials.

The administration of President Joe Biden has been criticised over its policy of arming Israel, which critics say violates US laws banning military aid and weapon sales to countries engaged in rights abuses. Seven months of Israeli bombardment and siege on the Gaza Strip have killed nearly 35,000 people and wounded almost 80,000, with Israel facing accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice, which it denies.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Monday that the proposed deal involved up to 6,500 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) – guidance kits that turn unguided bombs into precision-guided munitions.

US law requires Congress to be notified of major foreign military sales agreements. The Department of State usually provides information to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before such potential sales, followed by the formal congressional notification.

Congress was first informed about the sale – estimated at $260m – in January but the Biden administration has yet to move forward, according to the WSJ. The administration’s lack of follow-up action with an official notification about the sale has triggered an effective pause in the deal, the publication said.

“It’s unusual, especially for Israel, especially during a war,” a congressional official familiar with the arms sales process told the WSJ.

The official said, however, they were not aware of the reason for the delay.

Seth Binder, an expert on US arms sales with the Middle East Democracy Center, told the WSJ that if the delay was deliberate, it “would be the first instance since this war began where the administration took such an action on weapons we know have been used in Gaza”.

The reported delay in JDAMs deal comes as pro-Palestine protests against the US government’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza, including sales of weapons, have swept through university campuses across the US.

It also comes a few months before the US presidential election, in which Biden, a Democrat, will face off with former President Donald Trump, a Republican, in November.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released in late February, 56 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who supports military aid for Israel, compared with 40 percent who said they would be more likely to back such a contender.

John Kirby, spokesman of the White House National Security Council, declined on Monday to comment on whether any weapons sales to Israel had been put on hold.

“Our security commitments to Israel are ironclad,” he said during a briefing.

Kirby also told reporters that “nothing changed” in the US stance towards an Israeli assault on Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where some 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering amid the relentless Israeli bombardment.

Biden on Monday held a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and stressed US opposition to a ground offensive in Rafah, according to the White House.

But in the early hours of Tuesday, just hours after Hamas, the group that runs Gaza, said it had accepted a ceasefire proposal put forward by international mediators, Israeli forces seized control of the Rafah border crossing, cutting off a vital route for humanitarian aid into Gaza and potential sanctuary for civilians from a building offensive.

Palestinian rights advocates have argued that simple verbal criticism of Israeli policies from US officials is not enough, instead calling on Biden to cut off military support to the US ally.

“If you have a mass shooter going into a school, and you’re standing there saying, ‘Tell me when you need more weapons and more ammunition’, then you are culpable for that behaviour,” James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute think tank, told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies