The Biden administration is bypassing Congress for the second time since the start of the war in Gaza for a weapons sale to Israel, a move that comes amid growing anger at the United States over its backing of Israel as the Gaza death toll rises and misery spreads.
The State Department said late Friday that it had approved a proposed $147.5 million sale of artillery munitions and related equipment to Israel, invoking an emergency provision that avoids a congressional review process generally required for arms sales to other nations. The department used the same provision this month to facilitate a government sale of about 13,000 rounds of tank ammunition to Israel.
That earlier instance was the first time the State Department had invoked the emergency provision for an arms shipment to the Middle East since May 2019, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a move that lawmakers and some career officials inside the State Department criticized.
The State Department has also used the emergency provision at least two times since 2022 to rush arms to Ukraine for its defense against Russia’s invasion.
As casualties in the Gaza war mount, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has faced increasing pressure from the United States to lower the conflict’s intensity, but he said last week that Israel would “deepen” the fighting in coming days.
For its part, criticism of the United States has been building as international calls for a cease-fire grow. The United Nations Security Council this month adopted a resolution that called for more aid to reach civilians in Gaza but, to gain support from Washington, stopped short of imposing a cease-fire.
The State Department said in a statement on Friday that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken had “provided detailed justification to Congress that an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale” to Israel.
“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,” the State Department said. “This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives.”
“It is incumbent on all countries to employ munitions consistent with international humanitarian law,” it added.
Israeli airstrikes and ground operations have killed more than 20,000 people in Gaza, according to the enclave’s health ministry. The war started on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched cross-border attacks in Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, according to the Israeli authorities.