After delay, top Democrats in Congress sign off on sale of F-15 jets to Israel

The order still faces potential hurdles from a number of outspoken lawmakers who will have the opportunity to register opposition to the sale before it can be finalized and approved.
Last Updated : 18 June 2024, 04:16 IST

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Washington: A Biden administration plan to sell $18 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Israel is moving forward after two top Democratic holdouts in Congress signed off on the deal, according to multiple people familiar with the sale.

Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who had publicly opposed the transfer by citing Israel's tactics during its campaign in the Gaza Strip, has lifted his hold on the deal, one of the largest U.S. arms sales to Israel in years. Meeks said the sale would take years to deliver and that he supported the Biden administration's plans to hold up the sale of other munitions.

"I have been in close touch with the White House and National Security Council about this and other arms cases for Israel, and have repeatedly urged the administration to continue pushing Israel to make significant and concrete improvements on all fronts when it comes to humanitarian efforts and limiting civilian casualties," Meeks said in a statement.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, who had delayed signing off but never publicly said he was blocking the deal, also agreed to allow it to go forward, joining top Republicans who had agreed to the plan months ago.

Closing out the informal consultation process with Congress allows the State Department to move forward on officially notifying Congress of the sale, the final step before sealing the deal and one that has almost always been a foregone conclusion when it comes to Israel. That changed in recent months amid mounting concern in the United States about Israel's conduct of the war against Hamas, and as Democrats in Congress have increasingly hinted that they might use their leverage over weapons transfers to demand that Israel change its tactics.

The decision to relent to pressure from the Biden administration was a stark reversal for Meeks, who had been outspoken about his opposition to the deal, signaling his frustration with Israel's actions in the war, which have led to tens of thousands of Palestinian casualties and helped to create a hunger crisis in Gaza.

"I don't want the kinds of weapons that Israel has to be utilized, to have more death," Meeks said in an interview with CNN in April. "I want to make sure that humanitarian aid gets in. I don't want people starving to death. And I want Hamas to release the hostages."

When asked whether he would hold up the sale of the jets, he said, "I will make that determination once I see what those assurances are."

Meeks did not make clear Monday whether he had received those assurances.

The order still faces potential hurdles from a number of outspoken lawmakers who will have the opportunity to register opposition to the sale before it can be finalized and approved.

The State Department gave two congressional committees, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, informal notification of the F-15 order in January. In the informal review process, those committees can ask the department questions about how the recipient country intends to use the weapons. Both top Republicans on those panels, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, and Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, immediately approved.

A spokesperson for Cardin said that the review for the order had gone through the regular process of deliberation and that all concerns had been addressed by the administration.

Published 18 June 2024, 04:16 IST

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