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A closer look at U.S. military support for Israel

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden told Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu today that Israel must urgently do more to protect civilians in Gaza and allow in more food aid. Yet Biden has not backed away from a proposal to send some $14 billion worth of military assistance to help Israel wage that war. For a closer look, NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here in the studio. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What did President Biden tell Prime Minister Netanyahu in their phone call today?

MYRE: Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu that the way Israel is waging the war in Gaza is unacceptable and has to change. Biden says too many civilians and aid workers are being killed. Not enough humanitarian aid is getting into Gaza. And he also called for an immediate cease-fire. Now, a White House statement said that, quote, "U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel's immediate action on these steps." Biden has become increasingly critical of Israel's war effort, and these are really his most pointed comments yet. I'll just add a couple caveats. Biden didn't say what actions he might take if Israel stays on the same course, and Biden gave no indication that he's retreating from his proposal to send $14 billion in fresh military assistance.

SHAPIRO: You're describing a change in rhetoric, but policy so far is essentially the same. What kinds of weapons does Biden want to send to Israel?

MYRE: So we'll need to make a bit of a distinction here. The new package, the 14 billion that Biden wants to send, includes a lot of stuff that Israel is burning through in the current war and needs to be replaced. Then there's the regular annual assistance the U.S. provides, which is close to $4 billion a year. This includes hardware that's been approved by White House, State Department and Congress years ago and is finally ready to be delivered. Here's Secretary of State Antony Blinken talking about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: The weapons, the systems that Israel has sought to acquire have been contracted, in many cases, over many, many years. They go to self-defense. They go to deterrence, trying to avoid more conflicts. They go to replenishment of their supplies and their stock.

SHAPIRO: Just to clarify, Greg, can you offer us some examples of short-term assistance versus longer-term support?

MYRE: So in the short term, Israel has faced 15,000 Hamas rockets fired out of Gaza. Israel uses its Iron Dome system, which shoots interceptors to shoot down these incoming rockets. Israel says it needs to be resupplied with these defensive weapons. In the longer term, the U.S. is supplying state of the art fighter planes, including the F-35. These were approved years ago and have to be built from scratch. So we're talking about both weapons that could be used by Israel as soon as they arrive as well as others that aren't going to get there for years.

SHAPIRO: How much does Israel actually depend on U.S. weaponry?

MYRE: The Israel Defense Forces, the IDF, depends heavily on U.S. weaponry, starting with M-16 rifles and then going up to some of the advanced fighter jets I just mentioned. I spoke about this with Chuck Freilich. He's a former deputy national security advisor in Israel.

CHUCK FREILICH: The IDF is a primarily American-equipped military. Most soldiers probably still have the M-16s. And there are certain kinds of artillery and guided rocket systems that Israel produces, but, again, most of it is American. Tanks are actually made in Israel but with an American engine, and aircraft are American. These are American-made systems.

MYRE: So Israel has its own advanced military technology. It's been a leader in drone warfare. The Iron Dome system, we noted, was developed jointly between the U.S. and Israel. A lot of cyber systems have military applications. But when it comes to the hardware - planes, artillery, guns - it does rely heavily on the U.S.

SHAPIRO: As we see opposition in the U.S. increase to supplying the Israeli military, could Congress or domestic opposition from voters slow or stop the flow of weapons to Israel?

MYRE: You know, Ari, Congress has already slowed the 14 billion that Biden wants to send, though not really because of the war in Gaza. Most House and Senate members do support more military aid for Israel, but this has become entangled in other U.S. national security issues. Biden proposes as part of a massive military aid package nearly a hundred billion dollars that would assist Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan and bolster the U.S. southern border. But Republicans have been blocking it. Many analysts think that Israel will get this money eventually despite this mounting opposition among Democrats and the American public.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Greg Myre
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.