The tense relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu took center stage today with a report in the Wall Street Journal that Obama is holding up the release of U.S. Hellfire missiles requested by Israel for its operations against Hamas terrorist targets in Gaza.The President seems to make a distinction between providing additional Iron Dome interceptors for Israeli defense and supplying Israel with weapons for use in fighting Hamas. The House and Senate passed an emergency funding bill for Iron Dome just before they went into their August recess and the President signed it. However, providing weapons to Israel for hitting Hamas’ missile launch sites or other targets is now under greater White House scrutiny.In the past, the process for providing munitions to Israel from prepositioned U.S. stores in Israel was handled between the Pentagon and the Israeli Defense Ministry on a routine basis. As the WSJ reports:
On July 20, Israel’s defense ministry asked the U.S. military for a range of munitions, including 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illuminating rounds, which were already kept stored at a pre-positioned weapons stockpile in Israel.The request was approved through military channels three days later but not made public. Under the terms of the deal, the Israelis used U.S. financing to pay for $3 million in tank rounds. No presidential approval or signoff by the secretary of state was required or sought, according to officials.…The watershed moment came in the early morning in Gaza July 30. An Israeli shell struck a United Nations school in Jabaliya that sheltered about 3,000 people. Later that day, it was reported in the U.S. that the 120-mm and 40-mm rounds had been released to the Israeli military.“We were blindsided,” one U.S. diplomat said.
…Then the officials learned that, in addition to asking for tank shells and other munitions, Israel had submitted a request through military-to-military channels for a large number of Hellfire missiles, according to Israeli and American officials.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, or DSCA, was about to release an initial batch of the Hellfires, according to Israeli and congressional officials. It was immediately put on hold by the Pentagon, and top officials at the White House instructed the DSCA, the U.S. military’s European Command and other agencies to consult with policy makers at the White House and the State Department before approving any additional requests.
A senior Obama administration official said the weapons transfers shouldn’t have been a routine “check-the-box approval” process, given the context. The official said the decision to scrutinize future transfers at the highest levels amounted to “the United States saying ‘The buck stops here. Wait a second…It’s not OK anymore.’ “
…The White House and State Department have sought to regain greater control over U.S.-Israeli policy. They decided to require White House and State Department approval for even routine munitions requests by Israel, officials say.
Instead of being handled as a military-to-military matter, each case is now subject to review-slowing the approval process and signaling to Israel that military assistance once taken for granted is now under closer scrutiny.In an op-ed in The Times of Israel, David Horovitz imagines what Hamas leaders must think about this news:
From Hamas’s point of view, it must be a source of immense delight to witness the strains, and practical fallout, in the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem…All it needs to do, Hamas can only conclude, is keep firing at Israel’s towns and villages, forcing Israel to respond, confident that this will bring still more criticism down on Israel as well as growing restrictions on Israel’s ability to defend itself. Wow, the Hamas leaders must be thinking, the free world is just so dumb.