The Biden administration has been able to maintain a low profile by spreading arms provision to Israel across more than 100 smaller munitions sales — allowing the president to posture as a peacekeeper while US weapons wipe Gaza off the map.

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting in the East Room of the White House on March 12, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

In the one hundred fifty days after October 7, Israel killed thirty-one thousand Palestinians, injured seventy-two thousand, displaced 1.7 million, and razed or damaged more than half of Gaza’s buildings. Joe Biden sent over one hundred weapons shipments to Israel during the same stretch. In a recent classified briefing, US officials told members of Congress that the Biden administration approved and delivered more than one hundred separate weapons sales to Israel in the one hundred fifty days after October 7, “amounting to thousands of precision-guided munitions, small diameter bombs, bunker busters, small arms and other lethal aid,” the Washington Post reported on Wednesday. That works out to one new arms deal every thirty-six hours, on average.

These transfers are classified as sales, but very few of them meet that definition in the conventional sense. The vast majority are funded through State Department grants. Biden made just two of these publicly funded sales to Israel public, and the only reason he did is because he had to. Section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) requires the president to notify Congress when a proposed arms sale exceeds a certain value. The notification threshold depends on the type of matériel (for “significant military equipment” it’s $14 million; for other military articles and services, $50 million; for military construction services, $200 million), but also the recipient. For NATO countries and South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Israel, the notification thresholds for these three categories are considerably higher ($25 million, $100 million, and $300 million, respectively).

While Biden is loud and proud about arming Ukraine, he prefers to arm Israel in secret. The quantity of sales since October 7 is case in point. By spreading his military support for Israel across more than one hundred sales, Biden kept pretty much all of them “under threshold” per the AECA, thereby avoiding congressional and public scrutiny. Biden might have picked up this trick from his predecessor. Donald Trump exploited the same loophole to dodge oversight on arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whose intense and indiscriminate bombing of Yemen at the time had created a dire humanitarian crisis.

Keeping these transfers out of public view makes it easier for Biden to cast himself as Humanitarian of the Year in Gaza while going great lengths to help Israel destroy it. Biden’s series of food airdrops suggests he’s bravely trying to fix a catastrophe beyond his control. Administration officials perpetuate this narrative by insisting the president has no leverage over Israel. “There is a mistaken belief that the United States is able to dictate to other countries’ sovereign decisions,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller recently said.

This is wrong. The catastrophe in Gaza is the result of a deliberate policy choice Biden made. Israel’s military offensive would not be possible without him fast-tracking such vast quantities of weapons to its arsenal over the last several months. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted that Israel’s assault on Gaza relies on a steady stream (a torrent, in fact) of US weapons, once telling a group of local government officials, “We need three things from the US: munitions, munitions, and munitions.” From October 7 to mid-February, Biden had delivered twenty-one thousand bombs to Israel, and Israel had already dropped half of them.

Netanyahu structured an urgent plea to US lawmakers in November in a similar way: “I need ammo, ammo, and ammo — yesterday,” he said and specifically requested 155 mm artillery shells. More than thirty aid and advocacy groups had urged the Biden administration not to supply this ammunition because the shells are unguided, highly explosive (with a casualty radius of 100 to 300 meters) and have been used by Israel in the past to hit hospitals, schools, shelters, and safe zones. Biden transferred 57,021 of them to Israel a few weeks later. The Israeli army announced in early December that it had fired more than one hundred thousand shells since its ground invasion of Gaza began on October 27, adding that artillery plays a “central role” by providing “intense fire cover” for its troops.

Israel lacks the production capacity to prosecute one of the deadliest, most intense bombing campaigns in history relying only on its own munitions. Israel’s assault on Gaza continues because Biden thinks it should continue. If he thought otherwise, he would shut down the weapons pipeline he constructed to enable it.

In a recent poll, 52 percent of Americans said the United States should halt weapons transfers to Israel, while only 27 percent said they should continue. Among 2020 Biden voters, the margin was 62 to 14 percent.

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