Kuala Lumpur Post

World

US keeps pause on one bomb shipment to Israel

WASHINGTON — US president Joe Biden’s top aides told the visiting Israeli defence chief this week that Washington is maintaining a pause on a shipment of heavy bombs for Israel while the issue is under review, a senior US official said on Wednesday.

The official, briefing reporters about national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s meeting with defence minister Yoav Gallant, said the allies remain in discussions about the single shipment of powerful munitions, which was paused by Biden in May over concerns they could cause more Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza.

Without providing specifics, the official said other US weapons will continue to flow to Israel as it battles Hamas fighters in Gaza and faces Lebanese Hezbollah fighters on its northern border, where escalating hostilities have spurred fears of a wider regional conflict.

Wrapping up his visit, Gallant said earlier on Wednesday that there had been significant progress on the issue of US munitions supply to Israel, adding that “obstacles were removed and bottlenecks were addressed.”

Gallant and US officials sought to cool tensions following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent claims that Washington was withholding weapons, prompting Biden’s aides to express disappointment and confusion over the Israeli leader’s remarks

The US in May paused a shipment of 907kg and 226kg bombs due to concern over the impact they could have in densely populated areas in Gaza in the war that began with Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 cross-border raid. But Israel is still due to get billions of dollars worth of other US weaponry.

“We are in discussions ultimately to find a resolution,” the senior US official said on condition of anonymity. “But I think the president has expressed his concerns about that one shipment, and those are very valid concerns.”

The official acknowledged there have been “bottlenecks” in some weapons deliveries to Israel but attributed that to a “complicated bureaucratic system” for approving military assistance and not any deliberate slowdown.

Israel-Lebanon border

Gallant also discussed with Sullivan “Israel’s commitment to ensuring the safe return of Israeli communities to their homes in the north by changing the security reality in the area,” the Israeli defence chief’s office said.

Gallant on Tuesday met with defence secretary Lloyd Austin, who said the US was working urgently in pursuit of a diplomatic agreement to calm the situation on the Israel-Lebanon border between Israeli forces and Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters.

An exchange of shelling and missile strikes has led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border, and escalation has sparked fears of an all-out war in the area.

“Nobody that we have talked to, Lebanon, Israel, wants a major escalation that is not in anybody’s interest,” the senior US official said on Wednesday.

Sullivan raised US concerns about tensions in the occupied West Bank and the importance of resuming tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority that Israel has been withholding, the White House said.

Gallant’s talks in Washington also focused on Iran, Israel’s regional arch-foe. He discussed with Sullivan the importance of cooperation “vis-a-vis Iranian aggression and its nuclear ambitions,” Gallant’s office said.

While Israel has expressed increasing alarm over Iran’s nuclear programme, the senior US official cited intelligence assessments that Tehran is not “currently pursuing the procedures and processes they would need to develop an explosive nuclear device.”

But the official added that Iran had taken some “provocative steps” recently that would not go unchallenged.

The US and Israel, the official said, are working to reschedule a strategic dialogue on Iran. A meeting set for last week was scrapped following Netanyahu’s criticism.

Iran says its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes. — Reuters