Apr 12, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Israeli assurances fail to move key Democrat on F-15 deal

Foreign Affairs Committee top Democrat Greg Meeks, wearing a gray suit, white shirt and blue tie, raising his arms while sitting at a committee dais.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks. Photo: Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images.

A key House Democrat reviewed Israel's assurances on following international law in Gaza but still came away without giving his approval for Israel's purchase of F-15 fighter jets, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) faces pressure from "at least a dozen" Democrats on his committee to exercise his power to effectively block the deal, according to a lawmaker familiar with the matter.

Driving the news: Meeks has said he's looking for "assurances" from Israel that it'll use U.S. weapons in accordance with international law and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

  • Meeks' approval is required under the Arms Export Control Act, which allows the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees to effectively place holds on U.S. weapons sales.

What we're hearing: A senior U.S. official told Axios that, on Tuesday, the State Department showed Meeks a letter of assurances that was delivered by the Israeli minister of defense several weeks ago.

  • After he viewed the letter of assurances, Meeks didn't tell the State Department whether he would sign off and didn't articulate any terms, the U.S. official said.
  • The State Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

What he's saying: Meeks told Axios that "the State Department has been very accessible to me, so I'm looking at a number of things. That may have been one of them."

  • "I can't talk about none of those things because it's in a SCIF, it's a secret. So, I really can't talk about it," Meeks said when pressed about the letter.
  • "There are a lot of things that have to be considered," he said on Thursday. "The F-15s are not going to be delivered, if in fact [they are], until five years from now. I've got a lot of things that I'm looking at, doing my homework, on the ground, etc."

Zoom in: Asked if he has signed off on the deal, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told Axios, "It's not a matter of signing off or not signing off. It hasn't gotten to that point yet."

  • "It's a five-year delivery schedule, so there's no urgency," he said.
  • Asked if the F-15 deal is a leverage point to force Israel to adhere to stricter human rights standards, Cardin said: "I personally don't think it is because it's a delivery date five years from now."

Reality check: Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), the second-most senior Democrat on Foreign Affairs after Meeks and a staunch Israel supporter, said he "can't imagine" Meeks would ultimately block the sale.

  • "Israel faces more security threats than just Hamas. Hamas doesn't have an air force, but Iran sure does, and Iran is making noises today as if they'd like to send their air force against Israel," he said.
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