The pettiest collateral damage from deteriorating U.S.-Israel relations

The relationship between the United States and Israel has been better. The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday, titled “Israel Outflanks the White House on Strategy: White House Now Scrutinizing Israeli Requests for Ammunition“, that claims “U.S.-Israeli relations [are at their] lowest point since President Barack Obama took office.”

The article took pains to differentiate between Israel’s relationships with the U.S. Military and with Congress on the one hand, and the Obama administration on the other. To illustrate this divide, the article detailed the diplomatic fallout of Israel’s request for more American ammunition during Operation Protective Edge:

On July 20, Israel’s defense ministry asked the U.S. military for a range of munitions, including 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illuminating rounds, which were already kept stored at a pre-positioned weapons stockpile in Israel.

The request was approved through military channels three days later but not made public. Under the terms of the deal, the Israelis used U.S. financing to pay for $3 million in tank rounds. No presidential approval or signoff by the secretary of state was required or sought, according to officials.

A U.S. defense official said the standard review process was properly followed.

So far so good. But a few days slash paragraphs later:

The watershed moment came in the early morning in Gaza July 30. An Israeli shell struck a United Nations school in Jabaliya that sheltered about 3,000 people. Later that day, it was reported in the U.S. that the 120-mm and 40-mm rounds had been released to the Israeli military.

“We were blindsided,” one U.S. diplomat said.

White House and State Department officials had already become increasingly disturbed by what they saw as heavy-handed battlefield tactics that they believed risked a humanitarian catastrophe capable of harming regional stability and Israel’s interests.

They were especially concerned that Israel was using artillery, instead of more precision-guided munitions, in densely populated areas. The realization that munitions transfers had been made without their knowledge came as a shock.

In summary, the Obama administration was annoyed that — as it saw things — Israel went behind its back to obtain ammunition from the United States military at the same time the IDF was using artillery rather than more precise arms that could more accurately target Hamas terrorists. So it decided to retaliate by blocking the sale of Hellfire missiles:

Then the officials learned that, in addition to asking for tank shells and other munitions, Israel had submitted a request through military-to-military channels for a large number of Hellfire missiles, according to Israeli and American officials.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, or DSCA, was about to release an initial batch of the Hellfires, according to Israeli and congressional officials. It was immediately put on hold by the Pentagon.

The Hellfire missile, in case you are unaware, is an “air-to-ground precision weapon”. Its name is derived from “Helicopter Launched, Fire and Forget Missile” because it can so reliably find its target without ongoing human guidance. In other words, it is a guided missile of the precisely the type that the Obama administration ostensibly wanted Israel to use more of in order to avoid excessive collateral damage. And still, it put a stop to the transfer. Assuming the WSJ’s report is accurate — yeah, I’m sure the problem is that Israel’s weaponry wasn’t guided enough.

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