State Department bypasses Congress, OKs sale of tank shells to Israel

WASHINGTON — The State Department used an emergency authority to allow the sale of approximately 14,000 tank shells to Israel, bypassing a congressional review process, the Pentagon said on Saturday.

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According to the State Department and an online post by the Defense Department on Saturday, the review process is generally required for arms sales to foreign nations, The New York Times reported. The sale of the shells is valued at more than $106 million.

In its notification, the Defense Department stated that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had informed Congress on Friday that “an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale.”

Congress has no power to the State Department’s move, the Times reported.

The shells are part of a bigger sale first reported by Reuters on Friday and come from the inventory of the U.S. Army. The larger package is worth more than $500 million and includes 45,000 shells for Israel’s Merkava tanks, CNBC reported.

“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 State Department said in its notification. “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.”

It is the first time that the State Department has invoked the emergency provision for an arms shipment to the Middle East since May 2019, the Times reported. That is when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a move widely criticized by lawmakers, according to the newspaper.

Former State Department official Josh Paul, who recently resigned after working for more than a decade on arms sales issues, criticized the decision, The Washington Post reported.

“This decision to use the same extraordinary emergency authority employed by President Trump to arm the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen directly contradicts a promise that Secretary Blinken made to Congress during his confirmation hearing that he would return to regular order,” Paul said.

A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, defended the emergency measure.

“Given Israel’s urgent defense needs, the secretary has determined this exercise of his delegated authority appropriate in this case as well,” the official told the Post.

The State Department has used the provision several times since 2022 to quickly send arms to Ukraine, according to the Times. Those were not considered contentious because at the time U.S. lawmakers overwhelmingly supported sending military aid to Ukraine, the newspaper reported.

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