Netanyahu’s complaint: A decade-old US arms delivery deception – opinion

‘It’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu charged on June 18, 2024. “Israel, America’s closest ally, is fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.” 

Within hours, the White House and State Department were rebutting the Israeli prime minister and even suggesting he was delusional: “President Joe Biden’s team is enraged and frustrated by Netanyahu’s video, a US official told ABC News, adding that US officials have made clear to the Israelis that Netanyahu’s video is inaccurate and out of line.”

In a call with reporters two days later on June 20, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called Netanyahu’s claim “perplexing, to say the least. It was vexing and disappointing to us, as much as it was incorrect. So, it was difficult to know exactly what was on [his] mind.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted at her daily press briefing, “We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about. We just don’t.”

Was Netanyahu lying? Why did he blindside the United States government?

(L-R) US President Joe Biden, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (credit: VIA REUTERS)

Netanyahu knew what weapons were supposedly in the pipeline. He had to know as he explored the option of going to war against the Iranian-backed and -commanded Hezbollah army in Lebanon. And Netanyahu knew the main characters in a 2014 plot to hobble Israel and punish him, the Israeli prime minister at the time. Sitting in the White House in 2014 were president Barack Obama, vice president Joe Biden and his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and the president’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes.

At the time, I heard rumors of a hold-up in the delivery of critical Hellfire missiles to Israel. I queried US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who said, “It was just a temporary glitch.” But it wasn’t.

The 2014 White House script as published in ‘The Wall Street Journal’

In the summer of 2014, after volleys of Hamas rockets from Gaza and Hamas’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, the Israeli air force struck back. Seven weeks of war ensued, and, according to The Wall Street Journal, “White House and State Department officials [led] US efforts to rein in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip.”

The Journal continued:

“Many administration officials say the [2014] Gaza conflict-the third between Israel and Hamas in under six years-has persuaded them that Mr. Netanyahu and his national security team are both reckless and untrustworthy… Tensions really started to flare after Israel launched Gaza ground operations on July 17, 2014, and the civilian death toll started to rise sharply, prompting US officials to complain that Israel wasn’t showing enough restraint. Israeli officials rejected that notion, saying Hamas was using civilians as human shields… On July 20, Israel’s defense ministry asked the US 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,” it wrote.

“According to Israeli and congressional officials, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency was about to release an initial batch of [precision helicopter-fired] Hellfire missiles. The Pentagon immediately put it on hold. Top White House officials instructed the DSCA, the US military’s European Command, and other agencies to consult with policymakers at the White House and the State Department before approving any additional requests. The White House and State Department would require approval for even routine munitions requests by Israel, officials say,” the WSJ wrote.

“Instead of being handled as a military-to-military matter, each case was subject to review-slowing the approval process and signaling to Israel that military assistance, once taken for granted, [was] now under closer scrutiny.”

Today’s view, five months before US elections

Team Obama, still playing strong in Washington, pulled out several plays when Israel was confronted with another Gaza war. At first, they embraced Israel, and then they dragged out the game and called penalties as the Jewish state took the offensive. “Don’t throw the heavy bomb! Stay in bounds!”

It’s a shame the Israeli team hadn’t viewed the 2014 game films.

In early May 2024, President Biden told CNN in an interview that he would halt some shipments of American weapons to Israel – which he claimed had been used to kill civilians in Gaza – if Netanyahu ordered a major invasion of the city of Rafah. “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem,” he said. Biden says he will stop sending bombs and artillery shells to Israel if it launches a major invasion of Rafah.

A coordinated media campaign against the supply of “heavy bombs” to Israel was launched in December 2023 by The New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN. It was as if a political echo chamber was activated. Targeted explicitly by the publications were 2,000-pound bombs and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits that provided “dumb bombs” with precision guidance, ostensibly something critics should approve of.

 The latest scheduled shipment was supposed to consist of JDAM kits, eighteen hundred 2,000-lb bombs, and seventeen hundred 500-lb bombs.

Svengali Rhodes

One name was missing from the 2024 “Obama Team” still at work in the White House: Ben Rhodes, who served as Obama’s deputy national security advisor and anti-Israel play-caller during the tempestuous Iran Deal and Gaza weapons episodes. Rhodes was a political Svengali, the creator and director of the infamous Washington “Echo Chamber.”

Last week, “Svengali” stepped out from behind the curtains with a pre-election essay in Foreign Affairs titled “A Foreign Policy for the World as It Is: Biden and the Search for a New American Strategy.” According to Rhodes, Israel was a core problem.

He griped that the US administration “criticizes Russia for the same indiscriminate tactics that Israel has used in Gaza” and that “Washington has supplied the Israeli government with weapons used to bombard Palestinian civilians with impunity.”

What caused the current conflagration, according to the former White House speech writer? What lit “a fuse that detonated” the war? Rhodes lists the pro-Israel actions of the previous Trump administration as catalysts:

“Moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the annexation of the Golan Heights, and pursuing the Abraham Accords.” Rhodes continued, “The Palestinians were cut out of Arab-Israeli normalization, [and] Israel’s far-right [were] emboldened, lighting a fuse that detonated in the current war.”

Is the jig up?

Washington analyst Michael Doran, writing in Tablet magazine, identified the administration’s maneuver on arms shipments to Israel as an “Italian strike, a tactic of slowing or stopping work by meticulously adhering to rules and regulations.” There is no anti-Israel embargo; the Biden team is just following rules, they insisted.

“The purpose of the Italian strike is to force the Israelis into dependence on the United States, to deny them the ability to make long-term plans-namely plans regarding Hezbollah [sic] and Iran,” Doran wrote.

“On June 20, Senator Tom Cotton [R-Arkansas] wrote to President Biden. He accused the Administration of “bureaucratic sleight-of-hand” to withhold crucial aid to Israel by “withholding formal notification to Congress of approved weapons sales.” The weapons, supposedly “in process” but never delivered, include F-15 fighter planes, tactical vehicles, 120-mm mortars, 120-mm tank rounds, JDAMS, and small-diameter bombs.

All are crucial weapon systems in the event of a Hezbollah-Iranian attack against Israel.

Meanwhile, reports in Israel suggest that a ship full of weapons has departed the United States destined for the Jewish state. Or maybe the ship broke its mooring like the $230 million pier floating somewhere off the coast of Gaza.

The writer is the director of the Institute for US-Israel Relations at the Jerusalem Center for Foreign Affairs. He served as deputy chief of mission at the Israel Embassy in Washington (1997-2000), and earlier worked for AIPAC for 25 years in Washington and Jerusalem.