A new report reveals that US President Barack Obama's administration stopped a shipment of missiles to Israel late last month and tightened weapons shipment procedures to Israel, as tensions between the two nations grow amid Operation Protective Edge.
The report in the Wall Street Journal, released Wednesday night, cites US officials in Obama's administration, who say they discovered Israel had requested a large number of Hellfire missiles directly through military-to-military channels. An initial batch of the missiles was about to be shipped, according to sources in Israel and the US Congress.
At that point, the Pentagon stepped in and put the transfer on hold. Further, top White House officials instructed various US military agencies to consult with the US State Department before approving any additional requests from Israel.
A senior Obama administration official was quoted in the report as saying the transfer shouldn't have been a routine "check-the-box approval," given Israel's defensive operation in Gaza against Hamas, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the US.
The decision to clamp down on future transfers was the equivalent of "the United States saying 'the buck stops here. Wait a second…It's not OK anymore,'" said the official.
A Israeli defense official confirmed the reports to Walla! on Thursday, saying "the US delayed a shipment of Hellfire missiles to the Israeli airforce." He added "apparently it was (done) on the background of national tension" with Israel.
Obama has been at odds with Israel over the defensive operation in Gaza, making various attempts to press Israel into accepting a truce with the adamant terrorist organization of Hamas. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly responded to the pressure by telling the administration "not to ever second guess me again," after Hamas committed one of its many ceasefire violations.
Currently a new five-day ceasefire has come into effect as of Wednesday at midnight, with Obama calling Netanyahu shortly ahead of when it came into effect to push for a "sustainable" ceasefire.
According to US officials cited in the Wall Street Journal report, the Wednesday night phone call between Obama and Netanyahu was "particularly combative."
"Discovering" military-to-military arms transfers
The report noted that on July 20, ahead of the Hellfire missile cancellation, the IDF asked the US military for various munitions such as 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illuminating rounds, without the knowledge of Obama's administration.
Three days later the request was approved by the military, without Obama or US Secretary of State John Kerry being approached for approval, given that their approval was not required for such a transfer.
A US defense official added that the standard review process in such requests was properly followed.
The transfer without Obama's unnecessary approval was followed by a similar incident ahead of the Hellfire cancellation, which occurred the same day as the July 30 IDF strike on terrorists adjacent to a UN school, which the US slammed as "disgraceful."
In response, the IDF confirmed it targeted Islamic Jihad terrorists in the vicinity of the school. Previously the IDF provided video evidence that Hamas fires rockets from inside schools; further, UNRWA schools have been used in at least three cases to store Hamas rockets, after which UNRWA repeatedly returned the rockets to Hamas.
On the same day as the UN school strike, US reports said the 120-mm and 40-mm rounds had been released by the US army to the IDF, with one Obama administration official saying "we were blindsided."
A US defense official responded, saying "there was no intent to blindside anyone. The process for this transfer was followed precisely along the lines that it should have."
Demonstrating the tense ties between Obama's administration and Israel, a senior official of the administration told the Wall Street Journal "we have many, many friends around the world. The United States is their (Israel's) strongest friend."
"The notion that they are playing the United States, or that they're manipulating us publicly, completely miscalculates their place in the world," added the official.
The US decision to tighten down on arms transfers to Israel comes as the UK is threatening similar actions. On Tuesday, the British government threatened to suspend 12 arms export licenses to Israel if fighting resumed in Gaza.