Blinken Regrets Leak on Potential U.S. Arms Withholding to Israel


Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed regret over the recent disclosure that President Joe Biden had considered withholding certain arms shipments to Israel, amid a broader debate on whether such conditions empower Hamas.

“Leaks are an unfortunate part of the business that we’re all engaged in,” Blinken commented during a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on Tuesday. “It’s really regrettable, but it happens.”

Blinken’s remark came in response to a question on whether the threat to withhold weapons from Israel over a dispute about a potential military operation had “strengthened Hamas’s hand.”

Blinken appeared to acknowledge the potential drawback but defended the policy discussion occurring behind closed doors.

“We have one weapons system that we have been holding back, pending discussions with Israel, about how and where it would be used because of the concerns that we’ve clearly expressed over many months about the possibility of a full-on military assault on Rafah, a dense urban environment where using something like a 2,000-pound bomb could have terrible consequences for the civilians,” Blinken stated. “This is something that needed to be discussed.”

Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would not authorize the delivery of heavy bombs for use in Rafah, amid increasing concern that the Israeli leader might initiate a full-scale ground operation in the city, contrary to U.S. objections. This disagreement marked a significant point in U.S.-Israeli relations following months of growing Western unease over the civilian toll of the war in Gaza. It also created friction in both Jerusalem and Washington, D.C., with Biden being accused of siding against Israel to Hamas’s benefit.

Israel has faced increasing criticism over its conduct of the war in Gaza, where the high population density and Hamas’s placement of military operations in civilian areas have led to substantial civilian casualties. Blinken has condemned Hamas for “using civilians as human shields,” yet U.S. officials have also suggested it is “reasonable to assess” that Israel may have breached international law during the conflict.

Complicating matters, Hamas has refused a short-term ceasefire agreement to release hostages taken on Oct. 7. The terrorist group is leveraging the hostages to demand a total cessation of the war and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, among other conditions. This tactic was highlighted by British Foreign Secretary David Cameron to justify the United Kingdom’s decision not to impose an arms embargo on Israel.

“Just to simply announce today that we will change our approach on arms exports, it would make Hamas stronger, and it would make a hostage deal less likely,” Cameron told the BBC in a recent interview.

Similarly, Biden’s threat to withhold military aid put pressure on Cameron to justify why London would not follow the same path, complicating Blinken’s position.

“Please explain why … Lord Cameron, who is the foreign minister of one of our closest allies, is wrong when he says that blocking weapons to Israel would strengthen Hamas’s hand,” Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) asked Blinken.

Blinken responded by underscoring the support Biden has provided to Israel while implicitly acknowledging that the publicity surrounding the weapons shipment has benefited Hamas.

“It’s deeply unfortunate that that discussion leaked to the press, when it was a private discussion between U.S. and Israel,” Blinken said. “It did. And when the president was asked about it, he responded forthrightly, but there’s no final decision, and it remains subject to a discussion.”

Joel Gehrke
Joel Gehrke
Joel Gehrke is a foreign affairs reporter, with an emphasis on U.S. competition with China and Russia, Middle East policy following the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, and the crisis in Venezuela. Previously, he covered domestic politics for National Review Online.

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