Israel managed to secure a fresh supply of weapons and ammunition from the Pentagon in July without the approval of the White House or the U.S. State Department, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
In a revelation symbolic of America's diminishing influence over Israel, the Obama administration was caught off-guard by reports of large amounts of weaponry being passed to Israel through direct channels to the Pentagon.
"We were blindsided," an unnamed U.S. diplomat told the Journal.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, however, denied reports of a rift and reiterated that the U.S. is committed to Israel's security, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday.
"Given the crisis in Gaza, it's natural that agencies take additional care to review deliveries as part of an inter-agency process. That is by no means unusual and, again, does not indicate any change in policy," Harf said at a news conference.
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The White House has since tightened controls on arms shipments to Israel, the Journal reported. An initial batch of air-to-surface Hellfire missiles, which was to be released by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, has also been reportedly withheld.
A senior official in the Obama administration told the Journal the weapons transfers shouldn't have been a routine "check-the-box approval" process, given America’s concerns over Israel’s heavy-handed use of air strikes and artillery during its so-called Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. More than 1,900 Palestinians, many of them civilians, living in the densely populated enclave have so far been killed.
In light of the revelations, officials in the White House and the State Department have now demanded an individual review of every Israeli request for U.S. arms rather than allowing them in bulk through a direct military-to-military channel. This was needed, a senior official told the Journal, to ensure that U.S.-made weapons were not used indiscriminately in Israel’s Gaza war.
“The notion that they [Israel] are playing the United States, or that they're manipulating us publicly, completely miscalculates their place in the world,” a member of the Obama administration told the Journal.
A top Israeli official reportedly acknowledged that there were some “very personal” issues causing a rift with the U.S. “We've been there before with a lot of tension with us and Washington. What we have now, on top of that, is mistrust and a collision of different perspectives on the Middle East,” the official told the Journal.
Al Jazeera noted signs of increased tension between the two countries, after the U.S. State Department issued an unusually harsh statement in early August, following the reported shelling of a U.N. school in Gaza.
Meanwhile, a five-day cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, which got off to a shaky start on Thursday, seems to be holding in Gaza on Friday as both sides continue negotiations in Cairo toward a permanent truce.