Biden administration bypasses Congress to supply tank shells to Israel

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The Joe Biden administration has approved an emergency sale of nearly 1,400 rounds of tank ammunition to Israel by going around Congress.

The rare move to bypass Congress to sell tank rounds worth $106.5m has been criticised amid Israel's heavy bombarment of Gaza that has killed over 17,700 people in two months.

Saturday's sale of 120mm M830A1 High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer (MPAT) tank cartridges and related equipment comes as President Biden's request for a nearly $106bn aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security is languishing in the Congress, caught up in a debate over US immigration policy and border security.

The State Department said it notified Congress of the sale late Friday after secretary of state Antony Blinken in a declaration determined that “an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale” of the munitions in the interest of US national security, waiving the requirement to consult Congress under the Arms Export Control Act.

Such determinations are rare, but not unprecedented, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers' approval.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability. This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives,” the department said in a statement.

Mr Blinken defended the move, arguing that "a small portion of what had been requested" by Israel to fight the Hamas militants in Gaza was "going through an emergency basis".

"When it comes to the weapons that we transfer, there are rules that go along with them. Those rules apply to Israel, as they do to any other country, including the way they’re used and the need, the imperative of respecting international humanitarian law," the secretary of state told ABC News on Sunday.

"In the case of these particular weapons that you mentioned, Israel is in combat right now with Hamas, a group that viciously attacked it on 7 October that had said that if given the opportunity, it will repeat 7 October again and again and again.

“And we want to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Hamas."

The Hamas on 7 October launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Mr Blinken added that rest of the requested ammunition would go through the "regular order, throught Congress".

"It's very important that Congress's voice be heard in this".

Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Mr Biden for the arms supplies. “An additional shipment of important ammunition for continuing the war will arrive today; in effect, it is already here,” Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday.

Bypassing Congress with emergency determinations for arms sales is an unusual step that has in the past met resistance from lawmakers.

In 2019, then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo made an emergency determination for an $8.1bn sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan after it became clear that the Donald Trump administration would have trouble overcoming lawmakers’ concerns about the Saudi- UAE-led war in Yemen.

Rights advocates expressed concern over the sale, saying it doesn’t align with Washington’s effort to press Israel to minimize civilian casualties.

“By continuing to provide Israel with weapons and diplomatic cover as it commits atrocities, including collectively punishing the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, the US risks complicity in war crimes,” Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

Earlier in the week, Amnesty International said US-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) were used by the Israeli military in two air strikes on homes full of civilians, the first time a rights group has directly linked US weapons to an attack that killed civilians.