Some U.S. arms shipments to Israel reportedly ‘on hold’
Activists rally at the White House for Global Day of Action Against Sending Arms to Israel on Thursday, May 2, 2024 in Washington. | Kevin Wolf / AP for Amnesty International USA

WASHINGTON—Conflicting signals have come out of the White House in the last several days on the matter of ongoing U.S. arms shipments to Israel.

Reports from two media outlets say the Biden administration has put “on hold” at least one scheduled ammunition shipment and has been slow-walking approval of a separate $260 million bomb purchase by the Netanyahu government.

Spokespeople for the administration refused to comment on such reports, however, with National Security Council coordinator John Kirby continuing to insist that the U.S. government’s commitment to Israel remains “ironclad,” a phrase repeatedly used by the president.

On Sunday, an article from Axios said that two unnamed Israeli government officials claim a shipment of U.S.-made ammunition was put on hold by Biden. If true, it would mark the first time since the current war started on Oct. 7 that the U.S. government has interrupted the flow of arms to the Israeli Defense Forces.

When questioned, neither the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, nor Netanyahu’s office would respond.

A second report on Tuesday morning, from the Wall Street Journal, claimed the Biden administration has also delayed approval for the sale of thousands of precision bombs to Israel in recent months. Giant MK-82 bombs, fuses, and smart-bomb guidance kits are among the weapons supposedly being held up.

Israeli tanks barrel toward Gaza on Monday, May 5, 2024. | Tsafrir Abayov / AP

How significant these particular weapons allotments are for the Israeli military’s overall offensive capability is not clear.

Along with an immediate ceasefire, another central demand of the movement opposing the war against Gaza has been an end to U.S. provision of the bombs, missiles, ammunition, planes, and other weapons that enable the genocide.

So, if the reports from Axios and WSJ are accurate, the pause in arms shipments could be a sign that the Biden administration is feeling the pressure from protesters and angry voters.

Many in the peace and labor movements have been warning for months that Biden’s lockstep support for Netanyahu’s mass slaughter is the greatest threat to the unity needed to defeat Trump and the Republicans in the fall elections.

Nina Turner, former chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign and former head of Our Revolution, has said that the “Democrats must choose what’s more important to them…enabling Netanyahu or stopping a second Trump term,” because, she argues, “they cannot do both.”


> U.S. imperialism’s ‘ironclad’ support for Israel increases fascist danger at home

> Powerful U.S. peace movement has grown in response to Gaza genocide

> True de-escalation requires a halt to U.S. weapons shipments to Israel

Some now wonder if the weapons pauses are a sign that the White House is beginning to acknowledge that danger and is responding. Forcing such a change of policy after months of the president refusing to budge would represent a significant win for peace activists.

“The ceasefire movement is working,” Communist Party USA Co-Chair Joe Sims said in response to the report of the holds on arms. Sims credited the change to “the student protests, the ‘uncommitted’ campaigns, and other actions.”

Members of the CPUSA have been involved in protests, labor and city council ceasefire resolution campaigns, petition efforts, and more since the beginning of the current war on Gaza. They are now active in the student divestment encampments nationwide, as well.

“One of the central demands is cutting military support to Israel,” Sims said, “and we’ve got to keep the pressure on.”

Several mainstream media outlets attributed the paused shipments to the president’s desire to persuade Israel not to launch a ground assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where as many as 1.7 million Palestinian refugees have been trapped by Israeli forces.

An unnamed source told CNN, however, that the pause is not connected to Rafah, and a National Security Council spokesperson reiterated that the U.S. “will continue to do what is necessary to ensure Israel can defend itself.” Politico reported Tuesday, though, that the hold-up is precisely intended as a message to Israel.

In March, Biden said that a ground attack on Rafah is a “red line” which his Israeli allies could not cross without consequences. Netanyahu ignored that warning, apparently not finding much to fear in Biden’s threat.

His office issued a statement Tuesday declaring “The War Cabinet unanimously decided this evening Israel will continue its operation in Rafah.” Israeli tanks were then sent barreling into Rafah while missiles from IDF planes and ships hit the city.

Israeli troops seized control of the last crossing point between Gaza and Israel and immediately shut down the flow of food and medical aid through the border.

Hamas had reportedly agreed to a ceasefire deal on Tuesday that would have seen the release of all remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza. Netanyahu rejected the offer, however, sparking mass protests inside Israel.

The Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) coalition, one of the primary groups opposing the genocide in Israel, issued an urgent call Tuesday night, saying, “Now is the time for local and international pressure against the Israeli government’s criminal rampage.”

Back in the U.S., 88 Democratic lawmakers issued a letter urging Biden to halt some arms sales if Israel does not alter its “conduct in the war in Gaza as it pertains to the withholding of humanitarian aid.” They do not encourage a full arms embargo, however, which is a demand of the ceasefire movement.

The statement focused on a State Department report due this week concerning Israel’s blockade on aid. One of the signatories, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, said, “God help us if this report somehow says that [Israel’s] delivery of humanitarian assistance has been compliant with international standards… Anybody with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that’s just not true.”

Ceasefire leaders in Congress are not letting up on the president.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., at a ceasefire demonstration at the Capitol. | Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / AP

“More than one million people, including 600,000 children, are sheltering in Rafah with nowhere else to go,” Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., said in a statement. “This isn’t war; this is genocide.” She said Biden “must stop the IDF’s assault on Rafah and stop enabling war crimes.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., a Palestinian American, said that the U.S. government is an accomplice to the mass murder that has been underway for months and which is now exploding again in Rafah.

“It’s no coincidence that immediately after our government sent the Israeli apartheid regime over $14 billion with absolutely no conditions…Netanyahu began a ground invasion of Rafah to continue the genocide of Palestinians—with ammunition and bombs paid for by our tax dollars,” Tlaib said in a public letter released Wednesday morning.

“Many of colleagues are going to express concern and horror at the crimes against humanity that are about to unfold, even though they just voted to send Netanyahu billions more in weapons,” Tlaib said, pointing the finger at not just Biden but others in Congress as well.

“Do not be misled, they gave their consent for these atrocities, and our country is actively participating in genocide. For months, Netanyahu made his intent to invade Rafah clear, yet the majority of my colleagues and President Biden sent more weapons to enable the massacre.”

With Biden’s “red line” on Rafah now crossed by Netanyahu, the White House once more becomes the target for ceasefire activists. Will the president stick to his supposed threat and truly halt his support for the ongoing killing in Gaza?

An even stronger and louder ceasefire movement could tilt the scales on the question.

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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. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.