Politics Overnight Defense: Administration approves $735M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point
‘I’m troubled by it’: Dems trash Biden’s handling of Israeli strikes in Gaza
Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that he “supports” a ceasefire, but that may not be enough for fellow Democrats who have urged the president to act more aggressively.The White House’s refusal to publicly call for a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas has put the president at odds with key members of his own party as casualties continue to rise in both Gaza and Israel.
Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.
THE TOPLINE: Scrutiny is falling on a recently approved U.S. arms sale to Israel as the current conflict with Hamas enters its second week.
Earlier this month, the Biden administrationa $735 million arms sale to Israel, mostly of Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions that can turn so-called "dumb" bombs into precision-guided missiles, a congressional aide confirmed to The Hill.
Biden and Netanyahu face rough early test of relationship
President Joe Biden's efforts to persuade Benjamin Netanyahu to halt military strikes against Hamas in Gaza are plunging the two leaders into a difficult early test of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. The two have had other moments of tension over the years, and their current differences over the war in Gaza create a challenge that Biden was trying mightily to avoid. Biden told Netanyahu in a telephone call Wednesday that he expected “significant de-escalation” of the fighting by day's end, according to the White House.
The Washington PostMonday morning.
Democratic criticism: The sale has prompted some concern from Democrats who have pressed the administration to limit military support for the Israeli government in the face of its growing assault on Gaza.
Among them is Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who said in a statement Monday it would be.
"It would be appalling for the Biden administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians," Omar said in a statement, referring to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"If this goes through this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a ceasefire," added Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.
Israeli cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas amid 2nd week of violence
Israeli cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas amid 2nd week of violence The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement Thursday evening stating that the Political Security Cabinet accepted a recommendation for a "bilateral cease-fire without any conditions.
What can Congress do?: At this point, the window for Congress to block the sale is all but closed.
The notification earlier this month set off a 15-day clock for Congress to act. There are four days left in that window, and it takes 10 days once a resolution of disapproval has been introduced before someone can force a vote to bring it to the floor.
Biden supports ceasefire: Meanwhile, President Biden had his third call with Netanyahu in less than a week amid the crisis.
During the call, Bidenbetween Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the White House said, marking the first time Biden has publicly backed a ceasefire after a week of diplomatic efforts to ease the violence.
"The President expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end," the White House said in a readout of the call.
Mideast Conflict Was Tough for Israel, Terrible for Hamas, Great for Biden
With Israeli continuing to pummel Hamas, and growing support for Palestinians within his own party, Biden seemed to have no good options. Yet he comes out of the crisis with more freedom to do what he actually wants: Seek a deal with Iran.The exchange of rocket and mortar fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza had put Biden in a difficult spot. The left flank of the Democratic party has been increasingly outspoken in its support for the Palestinian people. And when Israel responded militarily to Hamas's attack, progressives—led by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar—criticized Israel and went after Biden himself.
Egypt is considered a key interlocutor in dealing with Hamas and negotiating with the Israelis on efforts to achieve a ceasefire. The U.S. does not speak with Hamas, which it designates as a terrorist organization.
Biden has faced increasing pressure from Democrats leading up to the call on Monday, particularly after an Israeli strike on a Gaza building that housed The Associated Press and other international media organizations.
About that strike: The Jerusalem Post, citing Israeli officials, reported over the weekend that Israel shared intelligence showing that Hamas was operating out of the building that housed the AP and Al Jazeera. Journalists were given short warning before the strike and no one was harmed.
Netanyahu also said in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the Israeli government shared intelligence with the U.S. linking the building to Hamas.
"We share with our American friends all that intelligence and here's the intelligence we had, it's about Palestinian terrorist - an intelligence office for the Palestinian terrorist organization housed in that building that plots and organizes the terror attacks against Israeli civilians," Netanyahu said. "So it's a perfectly legitimate target."
Biden bucked Dems on Israel-Hamas conflict, then nudged Netanyahu toward a ceasefire
President Joe Biden bucked members of his party who urged him to immediately demand a ceasefire from Israel in their conflict with Hamas, a strategy that appeared to pay off Thursday as Israel's Security Cabinet approved support for a truce. © Provided by Washington Examiner The White House had not issued a statement in the minutes after the news broke, and Biden did not respond to reporters' questions about whether he believed a ceasefire could be reached on Thursday.
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Mondayhas viewed the intelligence Israel says it shared.
And Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Denmark that the United States had asked for information on the strike, but that he hadn'twhile indicating that intelligence information would have gone through different channels.
MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT REFORM PUSH REACHES INFLECTION POINT
We've noted in this newsletter before the momentum that has been building toward a major reform in how military sexual assault is prosecuted. Over the weekend, The Hill's Ellen Mitchellfueling that momentum.
Among them are last week's announcement from a key House Republican, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), that he's on board with the change, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) bill getting the all-important 61 supporters to overcome any Senate filibuster.
A vote on the measure will be held "hopefully soon," Gillibrand said Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"We now have 61 bipartisan co-sponsors, we probably have over 70 supporters of the bill. We hope that we can get a floor vote, up or down, so that we can start the process of making this law," she said alongside Turner.
Red Cross Asks Gaza, Israel to Engage in Cease-Fire, Even for 'A Couple of Hours'
The head of the Red Cross sub-delegation in Gaza, Mirjam Muller, called for a pause in fighting Thursday to allow for "a breather" so people can shop for food, see a doctor if needed and tend to their needs.The head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Gaza, Mirjam Muller, called for a pause in fighting Thursday to allow for "a breather" so people can shop for food, see a doctor if needed and tend to their needs, the Associated Press reported.
Rising reports: Reports of sexual assault within the military have steadily increased since 2006 and even rose last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, when global troop movements and interactions were limited due to the health crisis. Numerous Pentagon programs and efforts to reduce such cases have come up short.
That failure was on display on Thursday when the Defense Department released its annual report on sexual assault in the military. The yearly survey found that service members reported 6,290 incidents of sexual assault while on service in fiscal year 2020, up by 1 percent compared to fiscal 2019.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Gen. Paul LaCamera to be commander of U.S. Forces Korea at 9:30 a.m.
Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, will testify behind closed doors to the House Appropriation Committee's defense subcommittee at 10 a.m.
The House Appropriation Committee's military construction subcommittee will hold a hearing on Air Force quality of life with testimony from AIr Force and Space Force officials at 10 a.m.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Afghanistan with testimony from special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and a U.S. Agency for International Development official at 10 a.m.
National Guard Bureau chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Army Reserve chief Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels and Navy Reserve chief Vice Adm. John Mustin will testify before the Senate Appropriation Committee's defense subcommittee at 10 a.m.
Fight Between Progressives and Biden on Israel Just Starting
Israel has finally agreed to a cease-fire, but this month’s violence has sparked a standoff between congressional liberals and President Joe Biden that is just getting started. On Thursday, after an 11-day military campaign, the Israeli Security Cabinet approved a cease-fire after increasing pressure from the international community and, eventually, Biden. But Biden didn’t start out there. At the beginning of the week, the president made it clear he wasn’t calling for a cease-fire so much as saying he’d support one, if Israel reached that decision.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will speak at a virtual Brookings Institution event at 10 a.m.
A Senate Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on cybersecurity of the defense industrial base with testimony from defense officials at 2:30 p.m.
A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the posture and readiness of the mobility enterprise at 4 p.m.
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'Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas' - 'The Human Factor' director Dror Moreh talks about the rise and fall of the Israel and Palestine peace process .
Dror Moreh speaks with Insider about his new documentary, "The Human Factor," a look into the Mideast peace process through the eyes of US negotiators. Moreh spoke with Insider columnist Anthony Fisher about the delicate, sometimes comical, negotiations that kept the peace process alive and produced tangible progress. With violence raging between Israel and Hamas, civilians dying, and the two-state solution all but dead, Moreh is not optimistic for peace because brave leadership on both sides is missing. See more stories on Insider's business page.