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US bypasses Congress to approve sale of tank shells to Israel

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The US has invoked national security to approve a sale to Israel of more than $100mn in tank ammunition in a move that bypasses Congress, which has struggled to approve bills providing more foreign military aid. 

The US state department on Saturday said that an “emergency exists” that justified it bypassing the usual Congressional review on the sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 tank cartridges and other items for an estimated cost of $106.5mn. 

“The secretary of state determined and provided detailed justification to Congress that an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale” of the ammunition “in the national security interests of the United States, thereby waiving the Congressional review requirements under . . . the Arms Export Control Act,” the state department said. 

Israel, which is fighting a war against militant group Hamas in Gaza, will use these weapons “as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defence,” it added. The equipment “will not alter the basic military balance in the region”.

The White House has found it increasingly difficult to pass foreign funding packages in a divided US Congress, where the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans and Democrats hold the Senate.

The sale comes days after Republicans in the Senate on Wednesday blocked an effort to provide more funding for Ukraine to fight its war against Russia in a bill that also included funding for Israel and Taiwan.

Republicans opposed further military aid to Ukraine without extra money for US border security.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defence capability,” the state department said. “This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives.

The Israeli government declined to comment.

Opposition has grown in the US and around the world to the mounting civilian death toll from Israel’s invasion of Gaza. More than 17,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in Israel’s air and ground attacks on the strip, which it launched in response to the Hamas incursion in October that killed 1,200 people.

All Senate Democrats initially voted for the $111bn spending package, which was defeated by 49 votes to 51. Senate rules require 60 of the 100 members to vote to continue discussion on the bill.

Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who often sides with Democrats, joined Republicans in opposing the package due to the Israel portion. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, changed his vote to a no once it was clear it would not pass, a move allowing him to raise the bill again later.

The US House of Representatives last month averted a government shutdown when it finally voted in support of a plan from Republican Speaker Mike Johnson to keep government spending at current levels into 2024, while leaving billions of dollars of funding for Israel and Ukraine in limbo. The final bill did not include the additional aid for Israel and Ukraine that had been requested by the White House.

Additional reporting by James Shotter

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