Day Before Biden Admin Announced It Would Withhold Weapons From Israel, It Issued Sanctions Waiver To Allow Arms Sales to Qatar and Lebanon

(Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
May 9, 2024

Less than a day before the Biden administration announced its intent to cut off U.S. arms sales to Israel, it issued a sanctions waiver to bypass congressional prohibitions on arms sales to a host of Arab nations that boycott the Jewish state, including Hamas ally Qatar and Iran-controlled Lebanon, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

On Tuesday—just a day before President Joe Biden threatened to withhold key weapons deliveries from Israel if the country moves forward with an incursion in the Gaza Strip's Rafah neighborhood—the State Department informed Congress that it intends to bypass laws that bar the United States from selling weapons to nations that boycott Israel, according to a copy of the notification obtained by the Free Beacon.

The Biden administration, which has waived these sanctions in the past, said in the notification that it intends to extend the waiver through April 30, 2025, allowing weapons to be sent to a host of nations that work closely with the Hamas terror group and other Iran-backed terror proxies.

While the administration determined that these countries engage in Israel boycotts, a condition that triggers American anti-boycott laws, bypassing these restrictions remains "in the U.S. national interest" to maintain regional stability, according to the waiver. But this justification is drawing scrutiny on Capitol Hill as the Biden administration threatens key arms shipments to Israel in a bid to force it into abandoning its campaign to eradicate Hamas.

"The Biden administration's policy toward Israel and around the world is to punish our allies and boost our enemies," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Free Beacon after reviewing the sanctions waiver. "They have sanctioned Israel and imposed an arms embargo. Meanwhile they've spent hundreds of millions pouring aid into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, dismantled sanctions on Iran, and now are suspending congressional restrictions to send weapons to Israel's enemies such as Qatar and Lebanon."

A State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon that the department "remains committed to Israel's security and defense." While current law "prohibits leases and sales of defense articles to certain countries that maintain a boycott of Israel," the president reserves the right to waive these restrictions if it is "in the national security interest," the spokesman said.

"The United States has routinely exercised that waiver for years to permit continued security cooperation between the United States and regional partners and to enable U.S. officials to continue to work closely with those partners to eliminate further instances of boycott requests," the spokesman said.

In the section related to Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group continues to attack Israel, the Biden administration admits the nation remains committed to a full-scale boycott of Israel.

But the administration justified waiving sanctions on arms sales because "it facilitates U.S. support for Lebanese stability, sovereignty, and efforts to undermine violent extremist influences," according to the May 7 notification letter.

The administration provided a similar rationale for Qatar—which provides shelter to Hamas's top leadership—saying an extension of the sanctions waiver "is in the U.S. national interest as it underscores the strength of our bilateral relationship, which is crucial to maintaining security in the region."

Qatar's central role in hostage talks between Israel and Hamas has recently become a subject of GOP consternation given the country's status as Hamas's top patron. Some lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to end its reliance on Qatar and increase pressure on the country to expel Hamas.

Biden threatened on Wednesday, meanwhile, to freeze American shipments of bombs and artillery shells to Israel if the country moves forward with an operation in Rafah, against which the United States has been lobbying for weeks.

"I made it clear that if they go into Rafah—they haven't gone in Rafah yet—if they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities," Biden told CNN on Wednesday.

The United States has reportedly already paused shipments of "high-payload munitions," and Biden said he would not "supply the weapons and artillery shells" that Israel would need for an operation in Rafah.

Update 5:36 p.m.: This piece has been updated with comment from the State Department.