As further proof of the deteriorating relations between Israel and the U.S., the White House has instructed the Pentagon to hold a shipment of Hellfire missiles meant for the Israel Air Force, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, calling this the “lowest point” in Israel-U.S. relations since U.S. President Barack Obama took office.
Signaling to Israel that U.S. military assistance is now under drastically closer scrutiny than in the past, White House and State Department approval is now required for every request made by Israel, the report said.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the decision was spurred by the recent discovery that the Israel Defense Forces had secured American munitions transfers without the express approval of the White House, by way of military channels.
The report cites a July 20 request for mortar shells and illuminating rounds, stored at a pre-positioned weapons stockpile in Israel. The request was approved by military channels within three days, and according to U.S. officials “no presidential approval or signoff by the secretary of state was required or sought.” The deal was not made public.
The turning point came when on July 30, the U.S. was accused of supplying shells to Israel following the shelling of a U.N. school in Jabaliya. The administration was reportedly taken off guard, placing further strain on an already tense relationship with Israel’s leadership.
“There was no intent to blindside anyone. The process for this transfer was followed precisely along the lines that it should have,” the report quoted an American defense official as saying.
The decision to halt the missile shipment came amid existing tensions surrounding efforts to strike a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. Earlier this month, as American pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mounted, the Israeli prime minister reportedly advised the Obama administration “not to ever second guess me again” on the matter, insisting that the U.S. trust him on Hamas’ unwillingness to enter into and follow through with cease-fire talks.
On Wednesday, a new five-day cease-fire went into effect, with Obama calling Netanyahu shortly thereafter to push for a “sustainable” cease-fire.
“The president reaffirmed the United States’ support for Egypt’s mediation efforts and underscored the importance of achieving a sustainable outcome that ensures Israel’s security and addresses Gaza’s humanitarian crisis,” said a White House statement following the phone call between the two leaders.
The Hellfire, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is an air-to-surface missile that enables aircraft to attack tanks and other armored vehicles.