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Coons, McCaul weigh in on Israel report, possible weapons pause


(WASHINGTON) — A key Senate ally to President Joe Biden and the top House Republican on a key foreign affairs committee offered starkly different views Sunday on Biden’s warning that he could suspend some military aid to Israel.

In separate interviews Sunday with “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., expressed openness to suspending delivery of some of the largest weapons the United States has sent Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders a full invasion of Rafah without sufficient protections for civilians in place. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Biden’s warning sent a dangerous signal to allies and foes alike.

The responses come after the Departments of State and Defense wrote that while it is “difficult to address or reach conclusive findings on individual incidents,” given “Israel’s significant reliance on U.S.-made defense articles,” it’s “reasonable to assess” that some have been used in instances “inconsistent” with Israel’s obligation under international law, according to a new report Friday.

The report was mandated by National Security Memorandum 20 to examine the use of U.S.-supplied arms in active conflict zones. Israeli officials were briefed on the contents of the NSM-20 report around the time it was given to Congress, according to a senior Biden administration official.

“I think whatever munitions, such as the 2,000 bombs that have previously been used in Gaza, that are supplied only by the United States, and that can cause massive civilian casualties may well be paused,” said Coons, who noted that defensive weapons deliveries would not stop and that Hamas’ use of civilians as “human shields” plays a role in the deaths.

The Biden administration opted to pause a shipment of some 3,500 bombs to Israel earlier this month because of concerns the weapons could be used in Rafah, where more than one million civilians are sheltering “with nowhere else to go,” a senior administration official previously told ABC News.

“Of course you want the conditions with [a] humanitarian [plan] to be in place, of course, you want the tents in place, but to say you cannot invade Rafah,” McCaul said in his own interview, referencing the Palestinians who have taken refuge in the southern Gaza city. “We’re telling the Israelis dictating their military strategy. This is the last point, the last step in the completion of their military objective. And for us to step in and say no, you can’t go into Rafah and finish the job I think is tantamount to an arms embargo.”

Their responses also come amid a growing public rift between Biden and Netanyahu.

The president has repeatedly voiced concerns over the rising casualties from Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, which was launched after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack. The concerns boiled over into warnings that certain weapons deliveries could be halted if Rafah is invaded without moving refugees into a safe area.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, insisted Israel will not be pressured into altering its military plans and that it already has enough weapons to attack Rafah if it so chooses. Netanyahu has said operations in Rafah are inevitable and necessary to eliminate Hamas.

US withheld bomb shipment to Israel out of fears it could be used in Rafah
Critics of the president have said the State Department memo and Biden’s warning are insufficient, with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., saying last week that the report “ducked all the hard questions” — an assertion Coons sought to downplay.

“Well, I disagree,” Coons told Raddatz. “I think President Biden has taken forceful action, so much so there’s been a lot of blowback for his recent public statement.”

McCaul, however, said he thought Biden’s warning went too far.

“Netanyahu said, I’ve talked to him, ‘I’m going to do this alone if I have to.’ Where it matters, Martha, is the signal and the message we’re sending the rest of the world that you can’t count on the United States, can’t trust the United States,” he said.

Both lawmakers, however, expressed concern about the dire situation in Gaza, with Coons telling Raddatz a peaceful solution could help open doors for Israel beyond the strip.

“I hope Prime Minister Netanyahu is thinking about his legacy. Right now, his legacy is the huge strategic and defensive failure of Oct. 7, and his legacy could be a real gap, a break in the long, strong bipartisan strategic relationship between the United States and Israel. I think that would be tragic. His legacy could instead be achieving regional security and peace for Israel,” he said, noting possibilities for peace with countries like Saudi Arabia.

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