Biden seeks legal loophole to keep weapons sales to Israel secret
As part of his $105-billion-dollar 'emergency' war request, President Joe Biden has asked for a legal loophole that would give him the ability to secretly give Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu's government billions in grants for weapons purchases. Essentially a voucher to be redeemed with U.S. weapons corporations, the grant amounts to a direct subsidy of the profits of Wall Street's biggest war companies. Here, Netanyahu and Biden shake hands at a meeting in New York in September. | AP

WASHINGTON—“I’ve never seen anything like it.”

That’s what Josh Paul, the recently-resigned director of congressional and public affairs at the State Department, had to say about the revelation that the Biden administration is seeking a special legal loophole allowing it to transfer billions in weapons and cash to the right-wing Israeli government without telling Congress or the American people.

Found on page 43 of the $105-billion-dollar “emergency” weapons funding package the White House sent to Congress, buried in legislative legalese, is a provision that the president be given blanket authorization to approve billions in “grants”—not loans—for Israel to spend on “advanced weapons systems” and other “defense articles.”

The money would be part of a scheme called the “Foreign Military Financing” program, or FMF. Under FMF, foreign countries are allocated blocks of money by the U.S. government that they can use to buy weapons and services from U.S. defense contractors.

Functioning like vouchers that can be redeemed with companies like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and others, these grants essentially pad the profits of U.S. weapons-makers.

The U.S. providing Israel with arms and free money is nothing new, but Biden is arguing that he should be granted authority to hand out these weapons vouchers to Israel in complete secrecy, without having to tell Congress or let the public know anything about it.

In his Oct. 20 letter to Capitol Hill, Biden asks that “any congressional notification requirement applicable to funds made available under this heading for Israel” be waived “if a determination is made that extraordinary circumstances exist that impact the national security of the United States.” Under his guidelines, the president alone would be empowered to make that determination.

Paul, who quit his State Department job in protest against the government’s plans to fast-track weapons for Netanyahu, told In These Times that this move by Biden is unlike anything he’s ever experienced while working in Washington.

​“A proposal in a legislative request to Congress to waive Congressional notification entirely for FMF-funded Foreign Military Sales or Direct Commercial Contracts is unprecedented in my experience,” he said. “Frankly, [it’s] an insult to Congressional oversight prerogatives.”

Under normal circumstances, even if Congress has already approved an FMF request, any time there is a new sale tallied on a foreign country’s grant account, the executive branch is required to notify the legislative branch.

This triggers the publication of the sale in the Federal Register and prompts the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to issue a press release with all the details of who bought what from whom and for how much.

Journalists, arms control groups, international agencies, taxpayer watchdog groups, think tanks, research institutes, peace organizations, and others rely on these publications and statements to monitor weapons sales and track the profits of the major arms dealers.

If President Biden gets his way, no one would ever know when a fresh weapons shipment from the FMF program is on its way to the Israeli military.

His legal loophole would shroud up to $3.5 billion in arms sales in total secrecy, erasing transparency when it comes to the financial details of how his administration is enabling Netanyahu’s war in Gaza.

The measure extends the president’s grant-making power through September 2025, or beyond, if Israel hasn’t used all the voucher money by then and chooses to set some aside for later.

Though Congressional Republicans split off Biden’s allocation of $60 billion+ for Ukraine from his appeal last week, they did pass a separate $14.3 billion budget for Israel—including the secrecy loophole and their own pet cause of cutting IRS funds.


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The White House says the “emergency” nature of Israel’s campaign to “re-establish territorial security and deterrence” requires speed in carrying out arms sales and justifies keeping them out of the public eye.

Paul says that is nonsense.

The law already gives the president authority to unilaterally approve weapons sales in an “emergency,” but it requires that a justification for the decision be sent to Congress. Biden’s loophole “doesn’t actually reduce the time, it just reduces the oversight,” Paul says. ​“It removes that mechanism for Congress to actually understand what is being transferred at the time it is being transferred.”

Former President Donald Trump invoked an “emergency” in May 2019 when he approved $8.1 billion in weapons sales for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan. Democrats in Congress complained at the time that Trump’s action, though legal, was a threat to democracy.

“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said then. “This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress.”

The cemeteries can’t keep up: Palestinians bury the bodies of relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza. | Hatem Moussa / AP

That future president turns out to be Joe Biden, but he’s taking things a step further than Trump did by seeking to bypass even notifying Congress of his intentions, let alone seek its approval.

Murphy sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is planning to put forward a bill that includes everything Biden asked for: money for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan—and the secrecy loophole. The senator has not yet commented on whether he still believes giving presidents blanket power to hand foreign governments money for weapons is a threat to U.S. democracy.

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the U.S. government provided Israel with at least $317.9 billion dollars in economic and military assistance between 1951 and 2022.

Since the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7th—just over one month ago—the U.S. Defense Department has rushed delivery of Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM)-upgraded “smart” bombs, 250-pound guided missiles, thousands of 155mm artillery shells from U.S. stockpiles, and nearly one million rounds of ammunition.

Illustrating the scale of Biden’s $3.5 billion in vouchers, the amount is the equivalent of giving Israel the money to purchase 116,000 new JDAM bombs from the Boeing corporation.

U.S. weapons makers are the world’s biggest arms dealers, accounting for nearly half of annual global sales and adding up to more than five times those of any other country.

Almost every bomb dropped and ammunition shell fired into Palestine by Israel is made in the United States. Biden declared at a recent White House event, “We’re going to make sure that Israel does not run out of these critical assets.”

With his secret weapons vouchers, the president appears determined to make good on that promise.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.