Watch CBS News

Netanyahu reiterates claim about U.S. withholding weapon shipments as Democrats grapple with attending his Congress address

Tensions grow between White House, Israel
Tensions grow between White House, Israel 02:30

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to double down on his claims that the United States has been withholding weapons deliveries for Israel's war effort in Gaza, despite the Biden administration denying the claim.

On Sunday, Netanyahu told his Cabinet that there was a "dramatic drop" in U.S. weapons about four months ago, without specifying which weapons. He said only that "certain items arrived sporadically but the munitions at large remained behind."

These comments come just days after he released a video in English last week after what he said were weeks of unsuccessful pleas with American officials to speed up deliveries.

"In light of what I have heard over the past day, I hope and believe that this matter will be solved soon," he said Sunday, without elaborating.

A White House official told CBS News on Sunday that the administration has "made our position clear on this repeatedly and we are not going to keep responding to the Prime Minister's political statements. We look forward to constructive consultations with the Defense Minister in Washington this week."   

Netanyahu's video last week sparked an uproar among critics in Israel and was met with denial and confusion from White House officials.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said last week that the U.S. was "perplexed" by Netanyahu's claims.

"There's no other country that's done more, or will continue to do more than the United States to help Israel defend itself," Kirby said. 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "We genuinely do not know what he's talking about."

White House denies withholding weapons from Israel, calls Netanyahu claims disappointing 02:58

A U.S. official told CBS News this week that Netanyahu's remarks in the video are apparently based on Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi's belief that the U.S. is slow-rolling Israel on smaller-ticket items like aircraft spare parts.

However, the official insisted there's been no such delay, except for the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs, which were about to leave an East Coast weapons depot by ship when the delivery was halted in early May.

The U.S. has been reviewing one shipment of 2,000-pound and 500-pound bombs since May. As Israel was preparing for a major offensive in Rafah, the Biden administration paused the shipment because, as President Biden put it in an interview last month, "Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs.   

"I'm not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah," Mr. Biden said. However, the administration said the U.S. would continue to support the Iron Dome, the system that protects Israel from rocket fire, and ensure Israel is able to "respond to attacks" originating in the Middle East. The Pentagon says the U.S. has continued to send weapons to Israel in the weeks since the pause of the shipment in May.

The war in Gaza, which was sparked by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, has tested the U.S.-Israel relationship like never before. While the U.S. has staunchly supported Israel's aims of freeing hostages taken into Gaza and defeating Hamas, it has grown increasingly concerned over the rising Palestinian death toll and the humanitarian crisis created by the war.

Congressional Democrats on the fence about address

Netanyahu is scheduled to address U.S. lawmakers on July 24 and Democrats are wrestling with whether to attend. Many are torn between their long-standing support for Israel and their anguish about the way Israel has conducted operations in Gaza.

The last time Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress nine years ago, 60 Democrats skipped his speech, calling it a slap in the face to then-President Barack Obama as he negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran.

Congress Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks March 3, 2015, before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

While some Democrats are saying they will come out of respect for Israel, a larger and growing faction wants no part of it, creating an extraordinarily charged atmosphere at a gathering that normally amounts to a ceremonial, bipartisan show of support for an American ally.

The invitation from House Speaker Mike Johnson to Netanyahu came after consultation with the White House, a person familiar with the matter who was granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject told The Associated Press. As of now, no meeting between Biden and Netanyahu during his Washington visit has been scheduled, this person said. 

Netanyahu said in a release that he was "very moved" by the invitation to address Congress and the chance "to present the truth about our just war against those who seek to destroy us to the representatives of the American people and the entire world."

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who opposed an invitation to the prime minister in 2015, said it was a mistake for congressional leadership to extend it again this time.

"I think it's going to invite more of what we have seen in terms of discontent among our own," she told CNN recently.

The Associated Press reported that interviews with more than a dozen Democrats revealed the breadth of discontent over the coming address, which many feel is a Republican ploy intended to divide their party.

Some Democrats say they will attend to express their support for Israel, not Netanyahu. Others said they are waiting to see whether Netanyahu will still be prime minister by the time he is supposed to speak to Congress.

Netanyahu's visit is expected to draw significant protests and some members of Congress are planning an alternative event.

Open signs of discontent in Israel

Netanyahu's government is a coalition that includes right-wing hard-liners who oppose any settlement with Hamas.

Benjamin "Benny" Gantz, a former military chief and centrist politician, withdrew from Netanyahu's war Cabinet this month, citing frustration over the prime minister's conduct of the war. On Monday, Netanyahu dissolved that body. In the meantime, a growing number of critics and protesters in Israel have backed a cease-fire proposal that would bring home hostages taken by Hamas.

Israel Palestinians
People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, June 22, 2024. Leo Correa / AP

For Netanyahu, the growing daylight with the U.S. also poses political risks and opportunities. His critics see the public spats as the result of a leader prepared to wreck important alliances and tarnish Israel's image in the world for political gain.

But the rift grants the long-serving leader a chance to show his base that he isn't beholden to the U.S. and that he is putting Israel's interests first.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.