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State Department approves sale of tank ammunition to Israel, bypassing Congress

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting with human rights leaders at the State Department in Washington on Thursday.
Alex Brandon
/
AP
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting with human rights leaders at the State Department in Washington on Thursday.

WASHINGTON — Going around Congress, the Biden administration said Saturday it has approved the emergency sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million as Israel intensifies its military operations in the southern Gaza Strip.

The move comes as President Joe Biden's request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security is languishing in Congress, caught up in a debate over U.S. immigration policy and border security. Some Democratic lawmakers have spoken of making the proposed $14.3 billion in American assistance to its Mideast ally contingent on concrete steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza during the war with Hamas.

The State Department said it had notified Congress of the sale late Friday after Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined "an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale" of the munitions in the U.S. national security interest.

That means the purchase will bypass the congressional review requirement for foreign military sales. Such determinations are rare, but not unprecedented, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers' approval.

"The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability. This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives," the department said in a statement. "Israel will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense."

The sale is worth $106.5 million and includes 13,981 120 mm High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer tank cartridges as well as U.S. support, engineering and logistics. The materiel will come from Army inventory.

Bypassing Congress with emergency determinations for arms sales is an unusual step that has in the past met resistance from lawmakers, who normally have a period of time to weigh on proposed weapons transfers and, in some cases, block them.

In May, 2019, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an emergency determination for an $8.1 billion sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan after it became clear that the Trump administration would have trouble overcoming lawmakers' concerns about the Saudi- UAE-led war in Yemen.

Pompeo came under heavy criticism for the move, which some believed may have violated the law because many of the weapons involved had yet to be built and could not be delivered urgently. But he was cleared of any wrongdoing after an internal investigation.

At least four administrations have used the authority since 1979. President George H.W. Bush's administration used it during the Gulf War to get arms quickly to Saudi Arabia.

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