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Netanyahu again claims the US is withholding arms shipments, days after Washington denies it

The spat highlights how high tensions have surged between Israel and Washington over the war in Gaza.
Posted at 10:06 AM, Jun 23, 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday that there had been a "dramatic drop" in U.S. weapons deliveries for Israel's war effort in Gaza, doubling down on a claim that the Biden administration has denied and underscoring the growing strains between the two allies.

Netanyahu told his Cabinet that the drop had occurred four months ago, without specifying which weapons, saying only that "certain items arrived sporadically but the munitions at large remained behind."

The spat highlights how high tensions have surged between Israel and Washington over the war in Gaza, particularly surrounding the Israeli military's conduct in the beleaguered territory and the harm to civilian life there. President Joe Biden has delayed delivering certain heavy bombs since May over those concerns, but his administration fought back last week against Netanyahu's charges that other shipments had also been affected.

Netanyahu told the Cabinet that he was driven to release a video in English last week after weeks of unsuccessful pleas with American officials to speed up deliveries. He said a resolution appeared close.

"In light of what I have heard over the past day, I hope and believe that this matter will be solved soon," he said, without elaborating.

Netanyahu's video last week sparked an uproar among critics in Israel and was met with denial and confusion from White House officials. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. was "perplexed" by Netanyahu's claims. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "We generally do not know what he's talking about."

His remarks came hours after Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant traveled to Washington for meetings with senior officials. A statement from Gallant's office said he would discuss "maintaining Israel's qualitative edge in the region" but made no mention of the weapons issue.

Related: Israeli officials say Netanyahu has dissolved the War Cabinet after key partner bolted government

The war in Gaza, which was sparked by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, has tested the U.S.-Israel relationship like never before. While the U.S. has staunchly supported Israel's aims of freeing hostages taken into Gaza and defeating Hamas, it has grown increasingly concerned over the rising Palestinian death toll and the humanitarian crisis created by the war.

Biden has felt pressure from progressive Democrats to take a tougher line against Israel, and he has sharpened his warnings to Netanyahu over military tactics in the Gaza Strip. But after threatening to impose a more sweeping ban on arms transfers over an assault on Rafah, the administration has avoided any suggestion that Israel's expanding push into the southern Gaza city has crossed a red line.

During an election year, Biden is also facing critics on the right who say he has moderated his support for an essential Mideast ally.

For Netanyahu, the growing daylight with the U.S. also poses political risks and opportunities. His critics see the public spats as the result of a leader prepared to wreck important alliances and tarnish Israel's image in the world for political gain.

But the rift grants the long-serving leader a chance to show his base that he isn't beholden to the U.S. and that he is putting Israel's interests first.