Biden Puts Arms Shipment to Israel on Hold Amid Dispute Over Rafah Attack

President Biden paused an arms shipment to Israel last week to prevent the U.S.-made weapons from being used in a long-threatened assault on the city Rafah, administration officials said on Tuesday night, a sign of the growing rift between Washington and Jerusalem over the conduct of the war.

The president withheld 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs that he feared could be dropped on Rafah, where more than one million Gazans have taken refuge, the officials said. The administration is reviewing whether to hold back future transfers, including guidance kits that convert so-called dumb bombs into precision-guided munitions.

The decision to delay the delivery of the 3,500 bombs was the first time that Mr. Biden has used his power to curtail arms as an instrument to influence Israel’s approach to the war since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led terrorist attack. A number of Mr. Biden’s Democratic allies in Congress have for weeks urged him to limit or halt arms shipments to Israel, something he had refused to do until now because of his strong support for the war against Hamas.

Israeli officials disclosed the weapons pause to Axios earlier this week, but U.S. officials refused to confirm it either at briefings or privately until Tuesday night. The fact that they finally did so was a clear indication of how much frustration is growing among administration officials that their Israeli counterparts are not heeding U.S. warnings against a major operation in Rafah that could lead to extensive civilian casualties. Word of the arms pause came just hours after Israel sent tanks into the city in southern Gaza.

One U.S. official said the administration began reviewing arms shipments last month when it became clear that Israel seemed to be reaching a decision on a Rafah operation. Mr. Biden initially took the position that Israel should not attack Rafah without a plan to effectively minimize civilian casualties, but in recent weeks the White House has increasingly indicated that it did not believe such a plan was even possible.

Israel has not made clear whether it is on the verge of opening the assault on Rafah but has taken actions in the last couple of days that seemed to hint it was moving in that direction. Israeli forces ordered the evacuation of 110,000 civilians from Rafah and mounted airstrikes against targets on the border areas of the city in response to Hamas rockets that killed four Israeli soldiers over the weekend.

Back to top button