Mar 7, 2024 - World

Scoop: White House asks State Dept., Pentagon for Israel-bound weapons list

The tips of 155mm artillery shells are pictured near a self-propelled howitzer deployed at a position near the border with Lebanon in the upper Galilee region of northern Israel on October 18, 2023.

The tips of 155mm artillery shells are pictured near a self-propelled howitzer deployed at a position near the border with Lebanon in northern Israel on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images

The White House recently asked the State Department and the Pentagon for a list of all weapons transfers to Israel that are planned or are up for approval in the coming weeks, four U.S. officials told Axios.

The big picture: The White House is seeking a full accounting of the government's weapons assistance to Israel as criticism and pressure grow across the political spectrum of U.S. support for Israel in the war in Gaza, where more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed.

  • The U.S. officials said the request is not a signal of an imminent move by the White House to slow-walk or suspend any weapons transfers to Israel and stressed the Biden administration has no plans to restrict military assistance to Israel at this time.
  • A U.S. official said another reason for the request was to check it with a list Israel gave to the Biden administration that laid out the weapons systems Israel is prioritizing.

What they're saying: A source with direct knowledge of the issue claimed the White House request was routine and has happened in recent years with U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.

  • But it was the first time since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that a list was requested regarding weapons transfers to Israel.
  • The aim was for the White House to get a status update of defense export licenses that are pending and arms transfers that are in the pipeline, the source said.
  • The source added the White House wanted the list in order to help the State Department in prioritizing specific arms transfers and to see if there are any issues that demand White House "deconfliction."
  • The White House declined to comment.

Driving the news: In recent days, pressure has grown from Democrats in Congress on the White House to use weapons transfers as leverage in order to push Israel to change the way it is conducting its military operation and take more steps to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

  • A group of more than three dozen House Democrats sent a letter to President Biden and made the case that an Israeli invasion of Rafah could violate his requirement that U.S. military aid be used in accordance with international law, Axios reported.
  • An invasion of Rafah, they argued, "would likely contravene" with a new national security memorandum Biden signed last month requiring any recipient of U.S. military aid to provide "credible and reliable written assurances" it will comply with international law.
  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday that he has discussed with State Department officials in recent days whether the current restrictions by Israel on the entry of humanitarian aid to Gaza trigger the memorandum's provisions or other laws that deal with U.S. military assistance.
  • Van Hollen said the administration should already suspend any weapons transfer to Israel until it signs the letter of assurances and added that he told other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that they should block military assistance until Israel abides by U.S. laws and conditions.

State of play: Israeli and U.S. officials told Axios both countries are discussing the written assurances the Biden administration is asking for and Israel has indicated it is willing to provide them in principle.

  • The Biden administration asked Israel to provide a signed letter of assurances by mid-March. A senior Israeli official said the issue will be discussed by the Israeli war cabinet in the coming days.

What's next: Secretary of State Antony Blinken has until March 25 to certify that Israel has signed the commitment sought by the memorandum.

  • If the certification is not given, U.S. weapons transfers to Israel would be suspended.
Go deeper