Updated May 5, 2024 - World

Scoop: U.S. put a hold on an ammunition shipment to Israel

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 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 Biden administration last week put a hold on a shipment of U.S.-made ammunition to Israel, two Israeli officials told Axios.

Why it matters: It is the first time since the Oct. 7 attack that the U.S. has stopped a weapons shipment intended for the Israeli military.

  • The incident raised serious concerns inside the Israeli government and sent officials scrambling to understand why the shipment was held, Israeli officials said.
  • President Biden is facing sharp criticism among Americans who oppose his support of Israel. The administration in February asked Israel to provide assurances that U.S.-made weapons were being used by Israel Defense Forces in Gaza in accordance with international law. Israel provided a signed letter of assurances in March.

State of play: The Israeli officials said the ammunition shipment to Israel was stopped last week.

  • The White House declined to comment.
  • The Pentagon, the State Department and the Israeli Prime Minister's Office didn't immediately respond to questions.

Driving the news: The Biden administration is highly concerned Israel will invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah where more than one million displaced Palestinians have been taking shelter.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released several statements in recents days saying he intended to order an invasion of Rafah regardless of whether Israel and Hamas reach a deal for the release of hostages being held in Gaza and a ceasefire.

Netanyahu hinted at tensions with the Biden administration in a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day issued Sunday.

  • "In the terrible Holocaust, there were great world leaders who stood by idly; therefore, the first lesson of the Holocaust is: If we do not defend ourselves, nobody will defend us. And if we need to stand alone, we will stand alone," he said.

Behind the scenes: Last Wednesday U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel and had a "tough" conversation with Netanyahu regarding a possible Israeli operation in Rafah, two sources briefed on the meeting said. 

  • Blinken told Netanyahu during their meeting that "a major military operation" in Rafah would lead to the U.S. publicly opposing it and would negatively impact U.S.-Israel relations.
  • A day later White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Israeli leaders understand that President Biden "is sincere" when he talks about the possibility of changes to U.S. policy regarding the Gaza war "should they move ahead with some sort of ground operation in Rafah that doesn't take into account the refugees."
  • White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said at a Financial Times conference in Washington on Saturday that the Biden administration made clear to Israel that the way it will conduct an operation in Rafah will influence U.S. policy towards the Gaza war.

The big picture: Egyptian and Qatari mediators are still trying to reach a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas that would lead to a pause in the fighting in Gaza.

  • The Biden administration is deeply involved in the efforts and CIA director Bill Burns joined talks in Cairo over the weekend.
  • Hamas in a statement on Friday said it was reviewing the current proposal with "positive spirit" and was "going to Cairo in the same spirit to reach an agreement."

While Israel waits for Hamas' response to the proposal, Netanyahu has issued several statements over the weekend saying he won't agree to end the war as part of a hostage deal.

  • Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant visited Israeli military forces in Gaza on Saturday and said Israel sees "worrying signals" that Hamas isn't going to move toward an agreement on releasing hostages.
  • "This means that an operation in Rafah and in other parts of Gaza will take place in the very near future," Gallant said.
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