Biden administration weighing $18 billion in arms transfers to Israel, sources say

Speeding delivery of the aircraft was among the top asks by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who visited Washington last week

Reuters
Published : 2 April 2024, 04:22 AM
Updated : 2 April 2024, 04:22 AM

President Joe Biden's administration is weighing whether to go ahead with an $18 billion arms transfer package to Israel that would include dozens of F-15 aircraft, five sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The sale of 25 F-15s from Boeing Co. to Israel has been under review since the United States received the formal request in January 2023, one of the sources said, long before Israel's six-month-old military campaign in Gaza. This sale would boost that number to as many as 50 F-15s.

Speeding delivery of the aircraft was among the top asks by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who visited Washington last week and held talks with US officials including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a second source said.

Biden faces pressure from foreign partners, human rights groups and some of his fellow Democrats in Congress to impose conditions on arms transfers to rein in Israel’s offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza where health officials say more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians.

One US official said the earliest the aircraft would be delivered is 2029, and that is if the formal notification were sent to Congress tomorrow and it were finalised immediately.

Israel is seeking to beef up its already formidable fleet of warplanes not just for its continuing fight against Hamas but to ward off any further threat from the Tehran-backed Lebanese armed group Hezbollah on its northern border as well as from Iran, its regional arch-foe.

House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul gave the green light for the F-15 sale on Jan 30, a committee aide said, when the relevant congressional offices responsible for approving major arms transfers were notified.

"Administration-Congressional deliberations on the F-15 case have already occurred," the second source familiar with the matter said, but added that some of the four offices required to sign off on any arms transfers had yet to do so.

US law requires Congress to be notified of major foreign military sales agreements, and allows it to block such sales by passing a resolution of disapproval over human rights violations or other concerns, although no such resolution has ever passed and survived a presidential veto.

An informal review process allows the Democratic and Republican leaders of foreign affairs committees to vet such agreements before a formal notification to Congress.

PLANES, MUNITIONS AND SUPPORT

The Israel package includes 50 F-15 aircraft, and support services, training, maintenance, sustainment and many years of contractor support during the jets' lifecycle, which could typically go for up to two decades, sources said.

One source said the Biden administration had expressed support to Israel for its F-15 request.

Washington has publicly expressed concern about Israel's anticipated military offensive in Rafah, the southernmost city of the Gaza Strip where many Palestinians have taken shelter after being displaced due to Israel's Gaza assault.

Israel launched an offensive in Gaza after Palestinian Hamas militants rampaged through southern Israeli communities on Oct 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Washington gives $3.8 billion in annual military assistance to its longtime ally Israel, and the administration has so far resisted calls to condition any arms transfers even though senior US officials have criticised Israel over the high civilian death toll.

This sale is separate from the $14 billion in aid for Israel that Biden has asked Congress to approve as part of a sweeping $95 billion national security supplemental spending package that also includes aid for Ukraine and Taiwan.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gallant discussed Israel's weapons needs during a visit to Washington last week. He told reporters he had stressed with senior US officials the importance of maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, including its air capabilities.

The Israeli embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Politico and CNN reported earlier on Monday that the administration was considering the sale.