Key Democrats approve major arms sale to Israel, including F-15s

key democrats approve major arms sale to israel, including f-15s

Key Democrats approve major arms sale to Israel, including F-15s

Two key Democratic holdouts in the House and Senate signed off on a major arms sale to Israel, including 50 F-15 fighter jets worth more than $18 billion, after facing intense pressure from the Biden administration and pro-Israel advocates to allow the transaction to move forward, said three U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The decision, which has not been previously reported, underscores the substantial appetite in Washington to continue the flow of arms to Israel despite concerns from younger members of Congress that the United States should use its leverage to pressure Israel to reduce the intensity of the war and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

This spring, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, publicly vowed to hold up the arms package unless he received assurances from the administration about how the warplanes and munitions would be used in Gaza, where more than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to local health authorities. Besides the F-15s, which are not scheduled to arrive in Israel for years, the administration sought sign-off on air-to-air missiles and Joint Direct Attack Munition kits, which retrofit unguided bombs with precision guidance.

“I don’t want the kinds of weapons that Israel has to be utilized to have more deaths,” Meeks told CNN in April. “I want to make sure that humanitarian aid gets in. I don’t want people starving to death, and I want Hamas to release the hostages. And I want a two-state solution.”

After months of holding up the arms sale, Meeks and Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, signed off on the transaction several weeks ago, according to U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss arms transfers. Cardin, a staunch supporter of Israel, had been widely seen as standing with Meeks in an act of collegial solidarity.

Meeks and Cardin are two of four lawmakers who can effectively veto a foreign military sale. In the case of the F-15 and munitions package, the two top Republicans on the committees — Sen. James E. Risch of Idaho and Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas — signed off on the sale months ago.

The State Department can now proceed with notifying Congress of the approved sale — the next step to completing the transaction. Asked why the notification hadn’t been sent already, a State Department spokesman declined to comment on the status of the sale.

If ultimately approved, the transaction would be one of the largest arms sales to Israel since the war began. The weaponry, often paid over many years, is largely financed by the more than $3.3 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds Washington provides Israel every year.

Meeks told The Washington Post that he has been in “close touch” with the White House about the package and “repeatedly urged the administration to continue pushing Israel to make significant and concrete improvements on all fronts when it comes to humanitarian efforts and limiting civilian casualties.” He underscored that the F-15s will be delivered “years from now” and said he remained supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself against threats from Iran and Hezbollah.

A spokesman for Cardin said the sale went through the “regular review processes.”

“Any issues or concerns Chair Cardin had were addressed through our ongoing consultations with the Administration, and that’s why he felt it appropriate to allow this case to move forward,” said Eric Harris, the communications director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement.

Progressive critics of the Biden administration say it has not used U.S. leverage effectively in the eight-month-old war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected U.S. requests to avoid a ground incursion into Rafah or expedite the delivery of aid to overland routes.

Republicans have categorized any holdup of weapons to Israel as a “reprehensible” betrayal. “The United States must stand with Israel. Period,” said Rep. Russell Fry (R-S.C.). Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has referred to the pause of one shipment as an “arms embargo on Israel” despite the administration’s rapid and continued shipment of weaponry since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 and capturing more than 250 hostages.

Defenders of the administration’s approach point out that Israel’s offensive in Rafah was more restrained than initially feared as a result of U.S. pressure. Despite several recent mass-casualty events involving U.S. weapons, the Biden administration is considering whether to unpause the delivery of a shipment of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs, officials familiar with the matter said.

The shipment was held up in May because of U.S. concerns about civilian casualties in Rafah, where up to 1.5 million people had sheltered after fleeing fighting in the northern part of the enclave.

The 2,000-pound airdropped bombs, capable of leveling city blocks, have been linked to previous mass-casualty events throughout Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. Meeks said he continued to support “the administration’s pause on certain munitions transfers due to concerns about ongoing civilian casualties in Gaza.”

In Washington, U.S. military support for Israel receives overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, backed by powerful interest groups including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is spending tens of millions of dollars this election cycle to unseat Democrats it views as insufficiently pro-Israel.

But outside of Washington, Biden has come under significant criticism from rank-and-file Democrats, including Arab American voters in key swing states. As conditions in Gaza have worsened — with the spread of famine and lack of medical care — protests have erupted across the United States, interrupting numerous Biden campaign events.

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