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US pauses shipment of heavy bombs to Israel

June 18, 2024

(CNN) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday confirmed an ongoing pause on a shipment of heavy bombs to Israel as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to ratchet up public pressure on the Biden administration over “withholding weapons.”

The Biden administration is “continuing to review one shipment that President Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department.

The administration is committed, however, to making sure that “that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself,” Blinken said.

The pause in the shipment of the heavy bombs was made public in early May, months into the war between Israel and Hamas as the administration faced heavy domestic scrutiny over its provision of weapons to the Israeli military.

It served as a signal of the kind of action President Joe Biden said he was prepared to take if Israel moved forward with a major military operation in Rafah, the southern Gazan city where more than a million people had fled.

The announcement of the hold on the weapons shipment was met with mixed reactions, including strong condemnation from Israeli officials and some US lawmakers of both parties.

In video remarks Tuesday, Netanyahu – who will address the US Congress next month – seemed to try to revive public pressure around the pause, claiming that he told Blinken in their meeting in Israel last week that “it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”

“Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks,” he said in the brief video posted on X.

It is unclear what other weapons Netanyahu was referencing.

Blinken would not say whether he made such an assurance to Netanyahu, telling reporters at the press conference Tuesday that he was “not going to talk about what we said in diplomatic conversations.”

“I can just say, again, that we have a commitment to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against a whole variety of threats,” he said.

“We continue to move these different cases through our system on regular order,” Blinken said, noting that “it takes a long time to move these things, and a number of the things that are going to Israel won’t get there for years.”

US officials have argued that Israel’s military operations in Rafah, which have added to the civilian death toll and caused further displacement, do not represent major military operations and as such, they have not instituted further holds on weapons.

And the US has moved forward with a number of other arms sales and transfers to Israel over the course of the eight months of the war.

In mid-May, just weeks after the pause was announced, the administration began the early stages of a process to move ahead with a new $1 billion arms deal for Israel.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that key Democratic lawmakers had lifted holds on an expected $18 billion sale of F-15 fighter jets to Israel.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg shake hands at the conclusion of a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington on June 18 (Photo: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

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