Middle East

State Department bypasses Congress to send thousands of munitions to Israel

By Natasha Bertrand, CNN

CNN  — 

The US State Department transmitted an emergency declaration to lawmakers late Friday night for the sale of thousands of munitions to Israel, the agency announced, bypassing the standard 20-day period that congressional committees are typically afforded to review such a sale.

The declaration followed a request by the State Department earlier in the week for Congress to approve the sale of 45,000 shells to Israel for its Merkava tanks. A source with direct knowledge of the matter told CNN that the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which have oversight over military sales, had been under “pressure” from the State Department to approve the request quickly amid Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

The committees typically have 20 days to review foreign military sales, allowing lawmakers to raise questions about a transaction and delay it if needed. But late Friday night, the State Department transmitted an emergency declaration to the committees for over 13,000 of the tank shells, worth about $106 million, for immediate delivery to Israel, the source said Saturday.

“Effective immediately, the items can be transferred,” the source said. “No further information, details or assurances were provided.”

The administration’s move to transfer some of the munitions comes as the US is under growing domestic and international pressure to support a ceasefire in Gaza and place conditions on some of the weapons it is providing to Israel.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed to CNN on Saturday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken notified Congress on Friday “that he had exercised his delegated authority to determine an emergency existed necessitating the immediate approval of the transfer” of the tank munitions.

“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 spokesperson said. “We continue to be clear with the government of Israel that they must comply with [international humanitarian law] and must take every feasible step to avoid harm to civilians.”

Separately, the State Department disclosed in an announcement on Saturday that the sale would be for “13,981 120mm M830A1 High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer (MPAT) tank cartridges.”

Reuters first reported the initial administration request for 45,000 shells.

In early November, the State Department formally notified congressional leaders that it would transfer $320 million worth of precision-guided bomb equipment to Israel, CNN previously reported.

Israel has received 200 cargo planes of military equipment from “several countries” since the Hamas terror attack on October 7, including ammunition, armored vehicles and weapons, according to the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

The Israeli ministry said more than 10,000 tons of military equipment have been delivered since the start of the war.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense said the aid had come from “several countries,” but declined to say what other countries had sent aid or how much of it had come from the United States.

The shipments of US military aid began soon after the war began. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Israel on October 13 as a C-17 cargo plane landed with security assistance to Israel.

“There’s a lot more that follows this,” Austin said at the time.

Unlike security assistance to Ukraine, where the US details types of weapons and capabilities, the shipments to Israel have been far more discreet, with the Defense Department rarely acknowledging or announcing what types of weapons or equipment it is sending.

In late October, a senior defense official said the US was expediting the delivery of precision-guided joint direct attack munitions (JDAMs) to Israel, which turn unguided bombs into smart weapons. The US has also expedited the delivery of Iron Dome interceptor missiles for Israel’s primary aerial defense system.

The use of US weapons in Israel’s war has drawn increased scrutiny following an Amnesty International report this week that claimed that US-made JDAMs were used in two strikes in October that killed 43 civilians. The human rights organization said it “did not find any indication that there were any military objectives at the sites,” a conclusion the Israeli military rejected as “flawed, biased and premature.”

The US State Department and the Defense Department both said they are reviewing Amnesty International’s report.

“We have made clear in our discussions with Israeli leaders that we are deeply concerned about the protection of civilians in this conflict,” State Department spokesman Matt Miller said Wednesday. “We expect Israel to only target legitimate targets and to adhere to the laws of armed conflict.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.

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