Israel Trying to Resolve Weapons Transfer Crisis With U.S., Officials Say

Netanyahu and Obama held a phone call Wednesday, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon spoke with Hagel, in attempt to solve the crisis.

 A U.S.-made Israel Air Force Apache Longbow helicopter
Reuters

Israel in recent days has been holding discussions with the American administration, including at the very highest levels, in attempt to resolve the crisis between the two countries and to remove limitations placed by Washington on weapon shipments to Israel as a result of the fighting in Gaza, senior officials in Jerusalem told Haaretz.

"We are speaking with them to try and return the situation to its previous [state]," said one of the senior officials. The crisis has yet to be solved, the official said, but he has expressed hope that it will be resolved soon.

The latest crisis started when the White House instructed the Pentagon and the U.S. military to put on hold a transfer of Hellfire missiles for Apache attack helicopters that Israel had requested during its recent operation in the Gaza Strip.

The Wall Street Journal on Thursday morning reported that there was serious anger in the White House against Netanyahu and the Israel Defense Forces' operations during the war in Gaza, especially concerning the high number of civilian casualties.

The talks between the parties are being conducted at the normal staff levels of the Prime Minister's Bureau, Defense Ministry and Israeli Embassy in Washington on the Israeli side, and the White House, U.S. State Department and Pentagon, on the American. Nonetheless, it seems the matter has also been raised at the higher levels of the political leadership.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama held a telephone call Wednesday afternoon, and later Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon spoke on the phone with his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. The Israelis initiated both calls, and were attempts to solve the most recent crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations.

Ministers in the security cabinet said that Netanyahu did not update them about the crisis with the United States over the weapons transfers, and they first heard of the matter from the press when it was reported in the Wall Street Journal. Some ministers expressed anger that Netanyahu hid from them the possible damage to the IDF's ability to operate during the war. The matter is expected to be discussed at a security cabinet meeting Thursday at 5 P.M.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio on Thursday morning that she did not know the details of the weapons transfer crisis, and none of the ministerial forums was informed of it during the Gaza operation. Livni said that what has made the relations between the United States and Israel so poor during the war was the "personal references" about senior American officials that were made by Israeli officials. Leaks and other statements, which may have been intended only for Israeli ears, carried a heavy price, Livni said, even if some Israelis were certainly very happy to see that someone is speaking back firmly to the United States.

The Wall Street Journal report said that during the Gaza war, White House officials were dismayed to discover that large amounts of weaponry are being passed to Israel via direct channels to the Pentagon, with little oversight by the political arena. In light of that, and against the backdrop of American anger over the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza caused by Israel's massive use of artillery fire rather than more precise weapons, White House and State Department officials are now demanding to review every Israeli request for American arms individually, a fact that slows down the process.

According to a senior U.S. official, the decision to tighten oversight and require approval of higher-ranking officials over shipments, was intended to make it clear to Israel that there is no "blank check" from Washington in regards to the U.S.-made weapons the IDF makes use of in its Gaza operations.