The White House is Working Overtime to Obscure Weapons Sales to Israel. The Senate Is Aiding and Abetting Them.

Picking up White House language, the Senate supplemental bill would conceal weapons sales from Congress and the American people.

Janet Abou-Elias, Lillian Mauldin and Women for Weapons Trade Transparency

Patty Murray speaks at a podium, flanked by two officials.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sponsored the Senate supplemental that includes more than $14 billion in military aid for Israel—and waives Congressional oversight. Murray is seen here on October 19 celebrating the passage of a "Standing with Israel against terrorism" resolution she co-sponsored. Photo from Office of Senator Patty Murray

On October 20, the White House sent a $106 billion supplemental national security funding request to Congress. It included a provision that would waive congressional notifications for $3.5 billion of future arms sales to Israel, effectively allowing the executive branch to blanket-approve these sales unilaterally. The unprecedented revocation of Congressional oversight authority raised grave concern in the arms control policy community and among high-ranking Democrats.

The request also included a provision to waive the annual cap on transfers to the U.S. stockpile within Israel.

Now, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has introduced a $111 billion bill to provide additional funding for Israel’s siege on Gaza, as well as military aid for Ukraine and other nations, that includes both Israel-specific waivers.

I am disappointed to see the Democratic Majority carry forward the President’s language that would reduce Congressional oversight of military assistance to Israel while creating new mechanisms for the Biden Administration to expedite such arms transfers,” says Josh Paul, a former State Department official who resigned October 17 in protest of reckless and unchecked U.S. military support to Israel. Paul continued, “[Senate Majority] Leader [Chuck] Schumer [D-N.Y.] has previously said that war powers belong squarely in the hands of Congress,’ and has pushed for greater Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch. But when it comes to what Israel does with U.S. weapons, he is apparently glad to turn a blind eye.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Reps. Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) previously told the Washington Post that they opposed waiving Congressional notification processes for arms transfers to Israel.

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Van Hollen, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement to the Post that scrapping notifications for Congress would break with long-standing precedent. We should not make exceptions to this practice — it’s our duty to review these funds and ensure their use is in the best interests of the American people and in alignment with U.S. policy,” he wrote. Van Hollen could not be reached for comment for this article.

The supplemental bill has become the subject of partisan debates. In November, the Republican-controlled House included the waiver language in a bill that split off $14.5 billion in Israeli military aid from the rest of the package. The bill passed but was tied to IRS defunding, ensuring it was dead on arrival in the Senate. The new Senate bill has broad support from Democrats, but Sen. Bernie Sanders opposes it and other progressives are calling for stronger measures to curb civilian harm, while Republicans are pushing for the bill to include anti-immigrant measures. A cloture vote failed December 6, with Republicans and Sanders opposing.

The provision to waive the Congressional approval process would bypass normal public notification procedures that allow journalists, watchdog groups and arms control experts to track weapons sales.

Congressional notifications also allow for the introduction of joint resolutions of disapproval and more informal mechanisms of holding and blocking arms sales when concerns arise regarding potential diversion to unintended users or human rights abuses.

“These efforts to expedite weapons transfers to Israel by reducing Congressional and public oversight are particularly egregious at a time when Israel is using U.S.-supplied weapons to commit war crimes in Gaza."

The Biden administration is already taking advantage of existing covert methods to ship arms to Israel. A source in the State Department confirmed to In These Times and Women for Weapons Trade Transparency that a provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act has been used since October 7 to rush precision guided munitions to Israel.

These efforts to expedite weapons transfers to Israel by reducing Congressional and public oversight are particularly egregious at a time when Israel is using U.S.-supplied weapons to commit war crimes in Gaza,” says William Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Paul concurs: This explicit support to expand U.S. arms transfers to Israel while reducing oversight would appear to run counter to everything this [Democratic] Majority has previously championed. What we need, particularly in the current circumstances given the untold number of innocent dead in Gaza is not less oversight but more, and not a hands-off approach from Congress, but greater transparency and stricter conditioning.”

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Janet Abou-Elias is a Founding Board Member of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency and a Research Fellow at the Center for International Policy. Her research focuses on international arms trade policy, U.S. foreign policy, and sustainability initiatives.

Lillian Mauldin is a Founding Board Member of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency and a Research Fellow at the Center for International Policy. Her work focuses on political strategy and legislative and grassroots advocacy.

Women for Weapons Trade Transparency is a nonprofit committed to producing high-quality research on the international weapons trade and advocating for humane and sustainable global demilitarization policies.

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