State Department bypasses Congress to clear tank ammunition sale to Israel: ‘Vital to US national interests’

President Biden’s State Department said Saturday it approved the sale of $106.5 million worth of tank ammunition to Israel amid the war against Hamas in a deal that bypasses Congress. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has approved a possible foreign military sale to the government of Israel of 120mm M830A1 High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer (MPAT) tank cartridges and related equipment for an estimated cost of $106.5 million, according to a State Department press release Saturday. 

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on Friday. 

“The Government of Israel has requested to buy thirteen thousand nine hundred eighty-one (13,981) 120mm M830A1 High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer (MPAT) tank cartridges,” the State Department said. “Also included are publications and technical documentation; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services; studies and surveys; and other related elements of logistics and program support.”

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken answers questions during a press conference with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron at the State Department Dec. 7, 2023 in Washington, DC.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Blinken “determined and provided detailed justification to Congress that an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale to the Government of Israel of the above defense articles and services in the national security interests of the United States, thereby waiving the Congressional review requirements under Section 36(b) of the Arms Export Control Act, as amended,” according to the release.

“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 press release continued. “This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives.  Israel will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense. Israel will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces. The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.” 

The move comes as Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security is languishing in Congress, caught up in a debate over U.S. immigration policy and border security. Some Democratic lawmakers have spoken of making the proposed $14.3 billion in American assistance to its Mideast ally contingent on concrete steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza during the war with Hamas.

According to the Associated Press, the determinations to bypass the congressional review requirement for foreign military sales are rare, but not unprecedented, when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval.

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Ammunition as Israel tightens measures by the army, police and other security forces after Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood in Sderot, Israel on Oct. 9, 2023.  (Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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“This will be a sale from U.S. Army inventory,” the State Department said. “There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale. Implementation of this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any additional U.S. Government or contractor representatives to Israel.”

The State Department noted that there would be “no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness” because of the sale. a

Bypassing Congress with emergency determinations for arms sales is an unusual step that in the past has met resistance from lawmakers, who normally have a period of time to weigh in on proposed weapons transfers and, in some cases, block them.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu attends the funeral for First Sergeant Major Gal Meir Eisenkot in the Herzliya cemetery on Dec. 8, 2023 in Herzliya, Israel. The Israel Defense Forces said the 25-year-old major, son of the cabinet minister and former army chief Gadi Eisenkot, died on Thursday in Gaza.  (Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

In May 2019, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an emergency determination for an $8.1 billion sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan after it became clear that the Trump administration would have trouble overcoming lawmakers’ concerns about the Saudi- UAE-led war in Yemen.

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Pompeo came under heavy criticism for the move, which some believed may have violated the law because many of the weapons involved had yet to be built and could not be delivered urgently. But he was cleared of any wrongdoing after an internal investigation.

At least four administrations have used the authority since 1979. President George H.W. Bush’s administration used it during the Gulf War to get arms quickly to Saudi Arabia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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