Obama’s ‘Unprecedented’ Support of Israel Includes Blocking Arms

Administration admits it is reviewing arms shipments to Israel during conflict

Israeli soldiers, backdropped by the national flag, sit on their armored personnel carrier as they clean their weapons
Israeli soldiers, backdropped by the national flag / AP
August 15, 2014

The Obama administration confirmed on Thursday reports that it had, in an unusual move, proactively stepped in to hold up arms shipments to Israel for further review as the current conflict in the Gaza strip continues.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed to reporters the accuracy of reports published in both the United States and Israel revealing that the White House was subjecting to further review Israeli requests for ammunition shipments, which typically have not needed explicit White House approval.

The added reviews on the munitions shipments prompted accusations that the White House is punishing Israel and injecting partisan politics into a military process typically unaffected by diplomacy issues between the two allies.

The "additional care," as Harf put it, being applied to the shipments also contradicts many statements by candidate and President Barack Obama claiming that his military support for Israel is "unprecedented."

Harf would not provide a direct explanation for the holdup, but appeared to suggest that the additional scrutiny may be the result of civilian casualties in Gaza.

"We made clear publicly that we thought Israel could do more to protect civilians," Harf said. "We made that very clear publicly."

"We also said our goal all along was to help Israel stop the rocket attacks, prevent them, and to prevent the tunnel attacks as well," Harf continued. "So again, we haven’t—there’s no holds on anything, on deliveries to Israel. We haven’t changed our policy in any way."

"During a crisis we take additional care to look at these issues as they move forward," Harf said, declining to provide "a specific reason behind why, during a crisis, we would take a second look."

"I just make very clear that we were concerned about civilian deaths on the Palestinian side," she added. "Throughout the crisis, we’ve obviously been giving additional care to how we think about these things, as you would expect."

Under normal circumstances, the White House does not need to involve itself in these types of arms shipments to Israel, a point noted by reporters in Thursday’s briefing.

"I mean, well, before the Pentagon has said we did this. We didn’t have to run this past anyone else," noted one reporter in the room. "This was a long-standing mil-to-mil relationship. We do this with our allies. But since there’s going to be this extra level of scrutiny, care, fill in the blank, who in this building is going to sign off on it?"

"I don’t know who has to sign off on things," Harf responded to the question.

Former White House National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who is intimately acquainted with the U.S.-Israel military alliance, said the move is likely to undermine confidence in Israel among other close U.S. allies.

"The facts are not yet clear, and perhaps the White House just wants to be sure it knows exactly what is moving when," said Abrams, who served in the George W. Bush administration. "That is always a White House prerogative. But interfering in the flow of arms to an ally who is under fire would be entirely different, undermining the confidence in the White House not only in Jerusalem, but in every allied capital."

"Officials in Seoul, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo, Manila—you name it—will think, ‘If they can do this to Israel they can do it to me,’" Abrams said. "The whole purpose of the emergency reserve stocks we keep in Israel, and the Bush administration gave Israel access to in 2006 during the war with Hezbollah, is to be sure that supplies flow fast and smoothly."

The White House’s decision to exert increased oversight contradicts Obama’s own rhetoric on the matter.

"Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us. Israel has always faced these threats on the frontlines. And I will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israel's security. Now, let me be clear Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable," then-candidate Obama said in 2008.

Obama has made similar statements throughout the years.

"The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad," he said in 2011.

"And as the nation that recognized the state of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland for the Jewish people," he added in the same 2011 speech.

When Hamas militants attacked Israel in 2012, Obama was quick to tout U.S. support for Israel’s army.

"We are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians," he said. "Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.

The alliance between the U.S. and Israel was "never stronger" than in March, 2011, according to Obama.

"I'm proud that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger.  Never," he said. "More exercises between our militaries; more exchanges among our political and military and intelligence officials than ever before; the largest program to date to help you retain your qualitative military edge.  These are the facts."

"These aren't my opinions, these are facts," Obama added. "But, to me, this is not simply measured on a balance sheet. I know that here, in Israel, security is something personal."