A large Pentagon shipment of Hellfire missiles to the IDF was halted by the White House in early August, seemingly in response to Israel’s attack on a building where a reported 3, 000 civilians had found shelter. The missiles are used by IDF American-made Apache helicopters, the Wall Street Journal revealed Wednesday night.
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The White House and the State Department were furious to discover last month that the IDF had been dealing separately, army to army, with the Pentagon, to replenish spent ammunition without the approval of the president.
On July 20, Israel’s defense ministry asked the Pentagon for munitions, including 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illuminating rounds, which were already kept stored in Israel. The request was approved through military channels but not publicized. No presidential approval or signoff by the secretary of state was required or sought, according to officials. A U.S. defense official said the standard review process was properly followed.
Since then, according to the WSJ, the Obama administration has been curbing arms transfers to Israel.
Except that when you slow down these supplies you pay with losing your ability to influence – and the direct result of the White House intervention has been to matter less and less in the decision making process of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And both sides know it.
Senior American, Palestinian and Israeli officials have told the WSJ that the White House and State Department have been mired in unending slights and arguments that have been percolating behind the scenes since the beginning of the Gaza conflict.
The battles have driven U.S.-Israeli relations to the lowest point since President Barack Obama took office, according to officials speaking to the WSJ.
One immediate result has been the slighting of the U.S. in the talks being conducted in Cairo, as it is Egyptian officials who shuttle between representatives of Israel and Hamas seeking an end the fighting. U.S. officials are at best secondary bystanders, at worst virtual foes of all the sides – but for certain they are not considered to be acceptable as mediators.
“The White House finds itself largely on the outside looking in, ” writes the WSJ.
The phone fights between Preesident Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have become legendary over the past month. The last one of these, a particularly combative phone call, took place on Wednesday, when Netanyahu pushed the administration aside in terms of American involvement in the negotiations, but at the same time demanded that the U.S. provide Israel with security assurances in exchange for its agreeing to a deal with Hamas.
Things really went south on July 30, when an IDF shell hit a UN school that sheltered about 3, 000 people in Jabaliya, a refugee camp in northern Gaza.
In comedy and tragedy, timing is everything, and it so happened that on July 30 it was reported that the U.S. released the 120-mm and 40-mm rounds to the Israeli military.
“We were blindsided, ” a U.S. diplomat told the WSJ, referring, presumably, to the U.S. Defense Dept.
White House and State Department officials were terribly concerned that Israel was using artillery, instead of more precision-guided munitions, in densely populated areas. Add to that the revelation that Israel had been receiving those munitions without White House and State Department knowledge drove them bonkers.
And then White House and State Department officials learned that Israel had submitted a request through those rascally military-to-military channels for a large number of Hellfire missiles.
And that’s when the solid waste hit the ventilation system.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, or DSCA, which was about to release an initial batch of the Hellfires, was immediately put on hold by the Pentagon, and top White House officials ordered everyone involved that they had to consult with the White House and the State Department before approving any additional requests.
White House and State Department officials were worried about public reaction, writes the WSJ. The Palestinians, in particular, were angry.
“The U.S. is a partner in this crime, ” Jibril Rajoub, a leader in Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, said of the decision to provide arms to Israel during the conflict.
Jibril Rajoub got to his high position by shooting his enemies in the knees in broad daylight. So he could teach a course on partnerships and crimes.
But things are bad between Washington and Jerusalem, and will remain so at least through the November elections. Obama officials describe Netanyahu as reckless and untrustworthy. Netanyahu officials describes Obama as weak and naïve. And while the White House does not have a non-Bibi go to in Israel, Jerusalem has both houses of Congress firmly on its side. Come November, both those houses are expected to have a Republican majority.
A senior U.S. official tried to make nice saying the U.S.-Israel disagreement happened because Americans wanted a cease-fire before Netanyahu was ready for it (the fact that Hamas kept shooting through those ceasefires could have had to do with it). But “now we both want one, ” the senior officials told the WSJ.
But a top Israeli official said it started long before Gaza: “We’ve been there before with a lot of tension with us and Washington. What we have now, on top of that, is mistrust and a collision of different perspectives on the Middle East. It’s become very personal.”