Mar 21, 2024 - World

Scoop: Israeli defense minister will bring a long weapons wish list to Washington

Gallant and general with map

Israeli Defense Minister Gallant is briefed on plans for the Gaza operation in October. Photo: Israeli Defense Ministry Handout via Getty

Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant will come to Washington next week with a long list of U.S. weapons Israel wants to receive in an expedited manner, two Israeli and U.S. officials said.

Why it matters: Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, Israeli Defense Forces have become increasingly reliant on U.S.-made weapons for the war in Gaza and would depend on them if the conflict with Hezabollah in Lebanon escalates.

  • U.S. weapons supply to Israel is increasingly being scrutinized as many inside the Democratic Party and some inside the Biden administration call for putting conditions on Israeli use of U.S.-made weapons.

Driving the news: Gallant is expected to arrive in Washington on Sunday for his first visit to the U.S. since assuming office more than one year ago.

  • He is expected to meet with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and other senior U.S. officials, Israeli officials said.

Behind the scenes: Gallant and Austin spoke on the phone on Wednesday and discussed the Israeli minister's upcoming trip, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

  • The officials added Gallant told Austin he is coming with a list of specific weapon system requests.
  • A senior Israeli official said the requests will not only include short-term requests for the war in Gaza but also long-term ones, including the option to purchase more F-35 and F-15 fighter jets.
  • Israel wants to have the supply of the jets and other weapon systems expedited as much as possible, the Israeli official said.
  • Gallant told Austin he is bringing with him the director-general of the Ministry of Defense, retired Major General Eyal Zamir, who is in charge of Israel's weapons purchases. Gallant stressed he wants senior Pentagon officials to meet Zamir on the sidelines of the visit to discuss the technical details for Israel's defense requests, the source said.

Between the lines: Israeli officials say they are concerned about the pace of U.S. weapons shipments and that the Pentagon could slow-walk their delivery as Biden faces mounting scrutiny over weapons supplies to Israel.

  • A U.S. official said there is no slow-walking and added Austin will tell Gallant that the pace of weapons supply is connected to available U.S. supply and the need for Congress to approve supplemental funding.

The other side: According to U.S. and Israeli officials, Austin told Gallant that he needs to be aware of the atmosphere in Washington regarding the war in Gaza, specifically when it comes to the growing humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

  • The defense secretary told his Israeli counterpart that he needs to bring with him to Washington new policies and new ideas for how to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza that demonstrate Israel is removing any roadblocks for getting aid into Gaza, the officials said.
  • Gallant updated Austin about the new crossing Israel is using to get aid into northern Gaza, an Israeli official said.
  • U.S. and Israeli officials added Austin and Gallant also discussed the temporary pier the U.S. military is going to build off the coast of Gaza and how the IDF could secure the area on the coast that will be used for unloading the aid.
  • Gallant discussed with Austin his ideas about the day after the war, particularly possible alternatives to Hamas when it comes to governance in Gaza, a senior Israeli official said.

The big picture: Last Thursday, Gallant signed a letter to the Biden administration assuring Israel will use U.S. weapons according to international law and allow U.S.-supported humanitarian aid into Gaza, Axios reported.

  • The letter of assurances is a requirement under a national security memorandum issued last month by President Biden. The new policy doesn't single out Israel, but it came after some Democratic senators expressed concern over the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.
  • Earlier this week, the U.S. ambassador to Israel Jack Lew sent a cable to the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House certifying the Israeli commitment are credible, a U.S. official told Axios.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken will have to make a similar certification before the deadline on March 25. In May, the State Department will have to report to Congress whether Israel implemented its commitments.

What they're saying: The Pentagon said in a statement that Austin and Gallant spoke about the negotiations for the release of hostages and a temporary ceasefire.

  • Austin raised the need to consider alternatives to a major ground operation in Rafah, while reiterating the shared goal of defeating Hamas, the Pentagon said.
  • According to the statement, the two also discussed "the need to do more to protect civilians and urgently increase the flow of aid into Gaza through land crossings."
  • "Secretary Austin appreciated Minister Gallant's firm and full commitment to protect U.S. service members in the eastern Mediterranean who will enable the maritime humanitarian aid corridor," the statement said.
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