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Biden Administration Advances $1 Billion Arms Sale to Israel

The Biden administration has told Congress that it intends to move forward with a plan for the United States to sell more than $1 billion in new weapons to Israel, according to three congressional aides familiar with the deal.

The notification of the sale, which would include new tactical vehicles and ammunition, comes as President Biden has withheld a shipment of bombs to Israel, hoping to prevent U.S.-made weapons from being used in a potential invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Last week, Mr. Biden said he would block the delivery of weapons such as bombs and missiles that could be fired into the densely populated area where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering.

The potential arms transfer illustrated the narrow path the Biden administration is walking with Israel, trying to prevent an assault on Rafah and limit civilian casualties in Gaza but continuing to supply a longtime ally that the president has said has a right to defend itself. One congressional aide said Congress had been aware of the arms deal for months, and suggested that the administration had simply waited for a foreign aid package with more aid for Israel to pass before moving forward with the required congressional notification process.

When asked about the package, which was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, the State Department referred to recent comments from Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, citing a continued commitment to supply Israel with military assistance to defend itself from threats in the region.

“The president was clear he would not supply certain offensive weapons for such an operation, were it to occur,” Mr. Sullivan said. “It has not yet occurred. And we are still working with Israel on a better way to ensure the defeat of Hamas everywhere in Gaza, including in Rafah.”

The administration has been pushing for a cease-fire deal in which Hamas would release at least some of the hostages it took on Oct. 7, when it attacked Israel and began the war. But the prime minister of Qatar, a key player in the talks, said on Tuesday that they were at “almost a stalemate.”

Mr. Biden initially embraced Israel after the Oct. 7 attack, which killed an estimated 1,200 people, but has increasingly found himself at odds with its conduct of the war, which has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, according to the health authorities there.

Still, even as he issued his threat to withhold additional weapons last week, he made clear that the United States would supply arms to ensure its ally’s security, including for its Iron Dome missile defense system and for its “ability to respond to attacks” like the one Iran launched in April.

The State Department’s informal notification of the arms transfer to the required congressional committees begins a multistep process for top foreign affairs lawmakers to informally consider the terms of the weapons transfer and deliberate with the department in private. Congress as a whole will then consider the package.

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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