Key Democrats allow US sale of F-15 jets to Israel in $18 billion deal

Two key congressional Democrats have given their approval to allow the Biden administration to proceed with what is believed to be the biggest weapons package for Israel, expected to be worth more than $18 billion and include some 50 F-15 fighter jets.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had delayed signing off, telling CNN in April that he was still looking for “assurances” from the Biden administration over the types of weapons before giving his approval to the sale.

In a statement Monday night, Meeks highlighted threats to Israel beyond Hamas in Gaza, saying he remains “supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself against the real threats posed by Iran and Hezbollah” and noted that the planes won’t be delivered to Israel for years.

“I have been in close touch with the White House and (National Security Council) about this and other arms cases for Israel and have repeatedly urged the administration to continue pushing Israel to make significant and concrete improvements on all fronts when it comes to humanitarian efforts and limiting civilian casualties,” Meeks said. “I continue to support the administration’s pause on certain munitions transfers due to concerns about ongoing civilian casualties in Gaza.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave the green light after the sale went through the review process, a spokesman said.

“Any issues or concerns Chair Cardin had were addressed through our ongoing consultations with the Administration, and that’s why he felt it appropriate to allow this case to move forward,” committee communications director Eric Harris said.

“As a matter of policy, we do not confirm or comment on proposed cases until they have been formally notified to Congress,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The sale comes as President Joe Biden is putting increasing pressure on Israel to end its war in Gaza against Hamas and other militant groups following the October 7 attacks in Israel. Biden officials have argued that Hamas has been degraded to the point where it couldn’t carry out another similar attack.

Biden threatened to withhold weapons for Israel if it carried out a major offensive in central Rafah. While Israel has steadily increased its operations in Rafah, further displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the administration has argued those activities didn’t cross the line.

More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, according to Gaza’s ministry of health.

Democrats have increasingly called on the White House to do more to condition aid to Israel.

“I say it is enough of the indiscriminate bombing,” Meeks told CNN in April. “I don’t want the kinds of weapons that Israel has to be utilized to have more death. I want to make sure that humanitarian aid gets in. I don’t want people starving to death and I want Hamas to release the hostages.”

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