Israel's Netanyahu blames Biden for withholding weapons. US officials say that's not the whole story

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday claimed the United States is withholding weapons and implied this was slowing Israel's offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where fighting has exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation for Palestinians.

President Joe Biden has delayed delivering certain heavy bombs since May over concerns about Israel's killing of civilians in Gaza. Yet the administration has gone to lengths to avoid any suggestion that Israeli forces have crossed a red line in the deepening Rafah invasion, which would trigger a more sweeping ban on arms transfers.

Netanyahu, in a short video, spoke directly to the camera in English as he lobbed sharp criticisms at Biden over “bottlenecks” in arms transfers.

“It’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel,” Netanyahu said, adding, “Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job a lot faster.”

Netanyahu also claimed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a recent visit to Israel, said he was working around the clock to end the delays.

However, Blinken said Tuesday the only pause was related to those heavy bombs from May.

“We, as you know, are continuing to review one shipment that President Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah,” Blinken said during a State Department news conference. “That remains under review. But everything else is moving as it normally would.”

Netanyahu didn’t elaborate on what weapons were being held back, and the Israeli military declined to respond to a request for comment. Ophir Falk, a foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu, deferred questions on details to the U.S. government.

Responding to Netanyahu's claim Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We generally do not know what he’s talking about. We just don’t."

She added that the U.S. is having “constructive discussions” with Israel about the paused shipment of heavy bombs and that it's the only transfer being delayed.

Two top Democrats in Congress cleared the way this week for a $15 billion U.S. sale of F-15s to Israel to move forward, after a delay while one lawmaker sought answers from the Biden administration on Israel’s current use of U.S. weapons in the war in Gaza.

With Israel's war against Hamas now in its ninth month, international criticism is growing over U.S. military and diplomatic support for the Israel's campaign of systematic destruction in Gaza, at a huge cost in civilian lives.

The top United Nations court has concluded there is a “plausible risk of genocide ” in Gaza — a charge Israel strongly denies. Israel blames civilian deaths on Hamas, saying militants operate among the population.

Both Netanyahu and Biden are balancing their own domestic political problems against the explosive Mideast situation, and the embattled Israeli leader has grown increasingly resistant to Biden’s public charm offensives and private pleading.

Experts say Netanyahu's message — delivered only in English — is likely meant to shore up U.S. arms support and doesn't appear to indicate on-the-ground shortages.

“I’m not worried,” said Itamar Yaar, a former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council who leads of a group of former senior security officials. He thinks Netanyahu wants "to make it difficult for the Biden administration to delay arms supply in the future.”

Aviv Bushinsky, a former Netanyahu adviser, suggested the prime minister’s office is working to set the agenda for Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s meetings in the U.S. next week while allowing Netanyahu — rather than Gallant — to claim credit for releasing the shipment of bombs. The video also sets up a speech Netanyahu is set to deliver to Congress in about a week, he said.

“It’s a very belligerent style of diplomacy, but he’s in a win-win situation," Bushinsky said. “He has nothing to lose at the moment — this serves him in all dimensions, internally, publicly.”

Netanyahu disbanded his war Cabinet on Monday, a move that consolidates his influence over the war and likely diminishes the odds of a cease-fire anytime soon. Critics accuse him of delaying an end to the war because it would mean an investigation into the government’s failures on Oct. 7 and raise the likelihood of new elections when the prime minister’s popularity is low. Netanyahu denies the allegations and says he is committed to destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities — no matter how long that may take.

Months of cease-fire talks have failed to find common ground between Hamas and Israeli leaders. Both Israel and Hamas have been reluctant to fully endorse a U.S.-backed plan that would return hostages, clear the way for an end to the war, and begin rebuilding the decimated territory.

Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza has killed more than 37,100 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count. The war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians who are facing widespread hunger.

Israel launched the war after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250.


Callister reported from New York. AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.

Julia Frankel And Drew Callister, The Associated Press