US, Israel cite progress on resolving weapons rift

Israel and the United States said Wednesday they had made progress toward resolving a rift over US weapons shipments after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly accused President Joe Biden’s administration of slowing down deliveries.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant met top officials over three days in Washington as he voiced hope for quietly working through disagreements with Israel’s vital ally, drawing an implicit contrast to Netanyahu’s more confrontational approach.

“During the meetings we made significant progress, obstacles were removed and bottlenecks were addressed,” Gallant said after meeting with Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser.

Gallant said the progress was on “a variety of issues” including “the topic of force build-up and munition supply that we must bring to the state of Israel”.

“I would like to thank the US administration and the American public for their enduring support for the state of Israel,” he said.

Netanyahu in recent days has publicly accused the Biden administration of slowing down weapons deliveries to Israel, which has been waging a war against the Gaza Strip since October.

US officials have denied the accusations and showed annoyance, months before an election in which Biden’s support for Israel has become a liability with a left flank of his Democratic Party outraged by the heavy death toll among Palestinian civilians.

The United States in early May froze a shipment that included 2,000-pound bombs and Biden warned of a further halt as he pressed Israel not to carry out a wide-scale military assault of Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than one million displaced Palestinians had sought shelter.

A senior US administration official said the United States has sent more than $6.5 billion in weapons to Israel since 7 October, the date of a Hamas-led attack, with nearly $3 billion alone in May.

“This is a massive, massive undertaking and nothing is paused other than one shipment,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official blamed the rift on misunderstandings of the “complex” US bureaucratic process. He said Gallant’s team and US experts went through “every single case”.

“There was real progress and a mutual understanding of where things stand, of prioritization of certain cases over others, so that we can make sure that we are moving things in ways that meet the needs of the Israelis,” he said.

Seeking calm in Lebanon

Biden – whose approach to Israel has drawn criticism both from progressives and the right – held off on curbing weapon deliveries after Israel carried out what US officials claimed were comparatively targeted operations in Rafah.

Netanyahu and Gallant have said the most intense phase of the fighting is over – with Israel set to shift forces toward the border with Lebanon after rising skirmishes with Hezbollah.

The US official said Washington remained in “fairly intensive conversations” with Israel, Lebanon, and other actors and believed that no side sought a “major escalation”.

Gallant, who met twice in Washington with Amos Hochstein, the US pointman between Israel and Lebanon, warned that his military can “inflict massive damage” on Hezbollah if war breaks out.

“We do not want war, but we are preparing for every scenario,” Gallant told reporters.

US officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken have voiced hope that a ceasefire in Gaza could lead to a reduction in tension over Lebanon as well.

Biden on 31 May laid out a plan for a temporary ceasefire and release of hostages.

Despite criticism of the proposal from some of Netanyahu’s far-right allies, Gallant said: “We are all committed to and firmly backing the president’s deal.”

“Hamas must accept it or bear the consequences,” he said.

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed at least 37,718 people, according to data from the territory’s health ministry.

A Hamas-led 7 October attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

About 250 hostages were also seized, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, although the Israeli army says 42 are dead.

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