U.S. pauses Israel weapons shipment over Rafah assault concerns

The U.S. began reviewing future transfers of military assistance to Israel in April, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government appeared to move closer to a Rafah operation despite the urging of Biden, other world leaders and humanitarian officials, the official said.

No final decision had been made on whether to proceed with the weapons delivery at a later date, the official said, adding that the State Department is separately considering whether to approve future weapons transfers, including Joint Direct Attack Munition kits, which place precision guidance systems onto bombs.

Pressure mounts on Netanyahu

While the officials stressed the pause does not indicate a larger shift in policy about providing weapons to Israel, it is a rare step that hints at the growing friction between the U.S. and its ally over the war.

CIA Director William Burns is expected to be in Israel on Wednesday to consult with officials there on the latest round of cease-fire talks in Cairo, a source familiar with the situation said.

Hamas on Monday said it had accepted the terms of a proposal brokered by Egypt and Qatar, but Israel said it was “far from” meeting its demands. Negotiators have been trying to resolve disagreements over phasing, among other differences over a truce deal that would secure the release of hostages, according to another senior administration official.

“It’s positive that they’re still meeting, but it’s too soon to be optimistic,” the official said. “We need them to close their differences, but the differences are minor.”

The decision to pause last week’s arms delivery, which was first reported by Axios, came to light as the Biden administration appeared set to miss a Wednesday deadline to submit a highly-anticipated report to Congress on whether Israel is using U.S. weapons in accordance with international law.

Multiple administration officials told NBC News the Biden administration would miss the deadline, with State Department spokesperson Matt Miller confirming to reporters Tuesday afternoon that a delay was possible.

“We are trying very hard to meet that deadline,” Miller said. “It’s possible it slips just a little bit but we’re still at this point trying to get it done by tomorrow.”

The report is mandated under a National Security Memo signed by Biden in February which requires the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense to assess whether recipients of U.S. military assistance involved in active conflict are using those weapons in line with international law.