Biden seeks $18bn Israel arms trade, including F-15s

Reuters reports that the administration of US President Joe Biden is debating whether or not to proceed with a $18 billion arms transfer package to Israel, which would include dozens of F-15 aircraft.

Long before Israel’s six-month-old military campaign in Gaza, the transfer of 25 F-15s has been under review since the United States received the formal request in January 2023, according to Reuters (citing one of five sources familiar with the plans). This transaction could increase the quantity to fifty F-15s.

According to a second source, Israeli Minister Yoav Gallant visited Washington last week and met with US officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. One of his top priorities was expediting aircraft dispatch.

Foreign allies, human rights organisations, and some of Biden’s congressional Democrats exert pressure on him to impose conditions on arms transfers that would constrain Israel’s offensive in Gaza, where at least 32,845 Palestinians, the majority of whom are civilians, have been slain, according to health officials.Biden seeks $18bn Israel arms trade, including F-15s

Congressional Oversight of Arms Sales

According to one US official, even if formal notification were to be sent to Congress tomorrow and the deal was to be finalised promptly, the earliest the aircraft could be delivered would be in 2029. Not only is Israel attempting to bolster its already formidable fleet of warplanes in preparation for its ongoing conflict with Hamas, but it also wishes to ward off any additional threat posed by Hezbollah, an armed group sponsored by Tehran that operates along its northern border and regional rival Iran.

A committee aide told Reuters that House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul authorised the F-15 sale on January 30 after notifying the appropriate congressional offices approving significant arms transfers.

“Deliberations between the administration and Congress have already begun on the F-15 case,” said a second source with knowledge of the situation. However, he added that some of the four officers obligated to authorise arms transfers still need to do so.

Legislative oversight of substantial international military sales agreements is mandated by US law. If human rights violations or other concerns arise, Congress may impede such sales through a resolution of disapproval; however, no such resolution has ever been passed and withstood a presidential veto.

The Democratic and Republican chairs of foreign affairs committees can examine such agreements through an informal review procedure before formally notifying Congress.

Aircraft, ammunition, and support

According to sources who spoke with Reuters, the Israel package comprises support services, training, maintenance, sustainment, and many years of contractor support for the aeroplanes’ lifecycle, which can last up to two decades on average.

According to one source, the Biden administration had supported Israel’s F-15 request. The proposed Israeli military offensive in Rafah, the southernmost city of the Gaza Strip and a location where a significant number of Palestinians have sought refuge since being displaced by the Israeli assault, has elicited public apprehension from the United States.

Israel is also accused of violating international humanitarian law, which includes the Geneva Conventions and is a set of regulations designed to safeguard civilians during armed conflicts.

Among other violations, witnesses and human rights organisations have accused Israel of indiscriminate bombing, targeting civilian infrastructure, mistreating detainees, carrying out extrajudicial executions, and employing humanitarian assistance as a weapon of war.

However, The State Department stated last week that it had not identified any incident in which Israel violated international humanitarian law.

This transaction is distinct from the $14 billion in aid for Israel that Vice President Biden has requested approval from Congress for in a comprehensive $95 billion national security supplemental spending package, including assistance for Taiwan and Ukraine.

Although senior US officials have criticised Israel for the high civilian death toll, the administration has thus far resisted calls to condition arms transfers on the $3.8 billion in annual military assistance that Washington provides to Israel.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley condemned the assault on Gaza on Easter Sunday, invoking the holiday itself.

In a series of social media postings, he stated, “We must also acknowledge that the United States is complicit in this tragedy by resupplying Israel with bombs and failing to use its leverage to increase aid delivered into Gaza.”

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