WASHINGTON (AP) — For the second time this month the Biden administration is bypassing Congress to approve an emergency weapons sale to Israel as Israel continues to prosecute its war against Hamas in Gaza under increasing international criticism.
The State Department said Friday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had told Congress that he had made a second emergency determination covering a $147.5 million sale for equipment, including fuses, charges and primers, that is needed to make the 155 mm shells that Israel has already purchased function.
“Given the urgency of Israel’s defensive needs, the secretary notified Congress that he had exercised his delegated authority to determine an emergency existed necessitating the immediate approval of the transfer,” the department said.
“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to ensure Israel is able to defend itself against the threats it faces,” it said.
The emergency determination means the purchase will bypass the congressional review requirement for foreign military sales. Such determinations are rare, but not unprecedented, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval.
Blinken made a similar decision on Dec. 9, to approve the sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million.
Both moves have come as President Joe Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs remains stalled in Congress, caught up in a debate over U.S. immigration policy and border security. Some Democratic lawmakers have spoken of making the proposed $14.3 billion in American assistance to its Mideast ally contingent on concrete steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza during the war with Hamas.
The State Department sought to counter potential criticism of the sale on human rights grounds by saying it was in constant touch with Israel to emphasize the importance of minimizing civilian casualties, which have soared since Israel began its response to the Hamas attacks in Israel on Oct. 7.
“We continue to strongly emphasize to the government of Israel that they must not only comply with international humanitarian law, but also take every feasible step to prevent harm to civilians,” it said.
“Hamas hides behind civilians and has embedded itself among the civilian population, but that does not lessen Israel’s responsibility and strategic imperative to distinguish between civilians and Hamas terrorists as it conducts its military operations,” the department said. “This type of campaign can only be won by protecting civilians.”
Bypassing Congress with emergency determinations for arms sales is an unusual step that has in the past met resistance from lawmakers, who normally have a period of time to weigh in on proposed weapons transfers and, in some cases, block them.
In May 2019, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an emergency determination for an $8.1 billion sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan after it became clear that the Trump administration would have trouble overcoming lawmakers’ concerns about the Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen.
Pompeo came under heavy criticism for the move, which some believed may have violated the law because many of the weapons involved had yet to be built and could not be delivered urgently. But he was cleared of any wrongdoing after an internal investigation.
At least four administrations have used the authority since 1979. President George H.W. Bush’s administration used it during the Gulf War to get arms quickly to Saudi Arabia.