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As Netanyahu protests, Blinken says Israel arms shipments moving 'normally'

The top US diplomat said one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel's military remains under review, though most weapons shipments continue.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is still reviewing a paused shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel amid concerns they could be used in densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday. 

“That remains under review, but everything else is moving as it normally would move,” Blinken said during a news conference in Washington alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. 

Earlier Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video on X claiming that Blinken promised to lift US restrictions on weapons transfers during their meeting in Jerusalem last week. 

“It's inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” Netanyahu said. “Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration was working day and night to remove these bottlenecks.”

Blinken declined to comment on Netanyahu’s recounting of their meeting, telling reporters, “I’m not going to talk about what we said in diplomatic conversations.”

“We have a commitment to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against a whole variety of threats,” Blinken said. “It's regular order, with the exception of that one system.”

Under pressure from some congressional Democrats, the Biden administration in early May suspended a planned shipment of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 smaller 500-pound bombs. 

The administration was concerned the US-made munitions would be used in Rafah, the crowded southern city that had become a refuge of last resort for more than 1 million displaced Palestinians. 

More than 37,300 people have been killed in the Israeli offensive since October, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which says a majority of the deaths are women and children. Israel denies targeting Palestinian civilians and says it has dismantled half of Hamas’ fighting force in Rafah since launching its ground offensive there on May 6. 

The Washington Post reported Monday that the Biden administration’s proposed sale of F-15 fighter jets to Israel will move forward after two senior Democrats unblocked the $18 million deal following pressure from the White House. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had previously withheld their approval over concerns about Israel’s military tactics in Gaza. 

Their greenlight comes as the United States works to secure a cease-fire deal in Gaza that would begin with a six-week pause in the fighting and the release of women, elderly and severely wounded hostages taken captive by Hamas during the militant group's attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Hamas submitted its formal response to the three-phase proposal last week that includes some changes Blinken described as “not workable.”

“Hamas has to make a decision,” Blinken said Tuesday. “Is it actually looking out for the interests of Palestinian people? Is it looking out for its own interests at the expense of the interests of Palestinians who are suffering every single minute?”

Hamas official Bassem Naim told Al-Monitor last week the group is looking for assurances that Israel will commit to a permanent cease-fire and troop withdrawal as outlined in the deal. 

The Israeli military announced Monday it would pause operations daily to facilitate humanitarian aid during daylight hours along a key route in southern Gaza. Operations would continue in Rafah and elsewhere in Gaza’s south despite the limited “tactical pause,” the military clarified.

The announcement on the daily pauses drew immediate criticism from Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, and Bezalel Smotrich, its finance minister. The two right-wing ministers have threatened to bring down Netanyahu’s government if Israel accepts the US-backed cease-fire plan without ensuring Hamas’ total defeat.