Rep. Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is no longer expected to send a letter to the Biden administration calling for the $735 million arms deal between the US and Israel to be delayed despite plans to do so as of last night, three sources familiar with the situation told CNN on Tuesday.
Meeks’ decision – a reversal of his plans from last night – came after there was further engagement between members of the committee and senior administration officials late Monday on how the administration is approaching the ongoing of violence between the Israeli government and Hamas.
Biden administration officials urged Meeks not to send the letter and agreed to brief members of his committee on its Israel policy, two of the sources said.
Meeks acknowledged that he decided against sending the letter when asked about the move Tuesday.
“The purpose of the letter initially was to make sure that there’s dialogue, conversation. We’re going to have a meeting with the administration tomorrow where the issues and the questions that one may have will be able to be asked and that was the purpose of considering the letter,” he told reporters.
But Meeks’ move not to urge Biden administration officials to halt the arms sale to Israel has frustrated some progressives in his own party who are against the arms sale and are pressuring the administration to call for a cease-fire, two of the sources said.
“This is what we should have expected in electing Meeks,” one progressive House aide told CNN. “He sent us a little flash bulb of progressive hope last night. We genuinely feel dumb believing it was real.”
The letter was meant, in part, to put pressure on the administration to call for a ceasefire and for the Israelis to agree to one. President Joe Biden said he would support a ceasefire during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, but he has not called for one.
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did call for a ceasefire on Tuesday, saying in a statement: “Now, after more than a week of hostilities, it has become even more apparent that a ceasefire is necessary. There must be a serious effort on the part of both parties to end the violence and respect the rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian people.”
A ‘pretty shocking’ about-face
“The goal was not to get a briefing from the administration here the goal was to get a ceasefire to stop the violence,” said a congressional aide, describing the about-face as “pretty shocking.”
Asked Tuesday if Meeks was going to send a letter requesting the weapons sale to Israel be delayed given the continued violence and progressive Democrats’ pressure, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Meeks is in conversations with the Biden administration.
“I think Chairman Meeks has indicated that he’s going to pursue discussions with the administration on this.”
Hoyer said Meeks is not planning to send a letter asking the Biden administration to delay the sale because it was his understanding that “the administration has agreed to have some discussions with the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.”
Hoyer said in his opinion, “I’m not for placing conditionality on the consummation of that transaction.”
Asked for comment about the move by Meeks, the National Security Council referred CNN to the chairman’s office.
The Biden administration’s proposed $735 million weapons sale to Israel includes precision-guided bombs that can be used to hit smaller targets and are intended to decrease the potential for collateral damage, according to two sources familiar with the arms deal notification sent to Congress earlier this month.
The bombs, known as GBU-39 small-diameter munitions, were included in the weapons package notification along with Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), the sources said. The Washington Post previous reported that JDAMs were part of the proposed sale.
But one of the sources told CNN that the GBU-39 small-diameter munitions are arguably more relevant to Israel’s potential bombing of small targets, including soft structures, vehicles and gatherings of people, than JDAMs even though the actual shipments of those weapons are not yet off production lines and ready for export.
Now into its eighth day, this is the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian confrontation since the two sides fought a war in 2014, and Netanyahu vowed Monday that Israel would “continue to strike at the targets of terrorism.”
Israeli airstrikes continued through the night into Tuesday. The Israel Defense Forces said warplanes had struck nine rocket launch sites in Gaza on Tuesday in addition to targeting a tunnel system in northern Gaza, several residences of Hamas commanders and an anti-tank squad in Gaza City.
The Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health said 213 people, including 61 children, had been killed and 1,400 others injured in the current round of violence. More than 2,500 Palestinians are now without homes and more than 38,000 are considered internally displaced, according to the United Nations.
After a brief lull Hamas rocket attacks resumed on Tuesday one mortar killing two civilians at an agricultural packaging factory on the Israeli side of the Gaza border, bringing the total number of dead in Israel to 12.
Details about the proposed sale emerged as a number of congressional Democrats were ramping up pressure on the Biden administration to more forcefully engage on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as violence in the region intensifies, revealing a delicate shift in the way Democrats have talked about Israel for decades and a small crack in the party on foreign policy.
The change in tone – subtle but noteworthy – comes as there is still disagreement within the party about how far to push. Those on the progressive fringes are trying to block a $735 million arms deal made with Israel, but there’s little chance of that happening in Congress given the timeline on Capitol Hill.
“It would be appalling for the Biden Administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, a progressive Democrat from Minnesota, said in a statement Monday. “If this goes through this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a ceasefire.”
CNN’s Lauren Fox and Annie Grayer contributed reporting