Israel’s Defense Minister Arrives in Washington Amid Tensions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel aired new grievances on Sunday over the Biden administration’s supply of munitions for the war in Gaza as his minister of defense arrived in Washington for meetings with senior U.S. officials.

Some Israeli news outlets had portrayed the visit by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, although preplanned, as a “reconciliation” trip aimed at smoothing recent tensions with the country’s most crucial ally. Mr. Netanyahu’s government and the Biden administration have been increasingly at odds over Israel’s conduct in Gaza, and Mr. Netanyahu lashed out at the United States last week for withholding munitions.

But on Sunday morning, Mr. Netanyahu doubled down. In remarks broadcast in Hebrew before his weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu said he appreciated the Biden administration’s support for Israel through eight months of war, “but starting four months ago, there was a dramatic decrease in the supply of armaments.”

“For long weeks, we turned to our American friends and requested that the shipments be expedited. We did that time after time,” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding that he had also tried working behind closed doors.

“We received all sorts of explanations, but one thing we didn’t receive: The basic situation didn’t change,” he continued, adding, “Certain items arrived sporadically, but the munitions at large remained behind.”

There was no immediate comment from the Biden administration about the remarks, which could upstage Mr. Gallant in Washington. They come just days after Mr. Netanyahu released a combative video, in English, excoriating the Biden administration for, as the Israeli leader put it, withholding weapons and ammunition when Israel was “fighting for its life” against Iran and other common enemies.

U.S. officials said at the time that they found the video “perplexing” and did not know what Mr. Netanyahu was talking about. While the Israeli prime minister complained of “bottlenecks,” the Biden administration maintained that it had held up only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs over concerns about their use in densely populated parts of Gaza.

Many Israelis were similarly nonplussed by the prime minister’s decision to pick such a public fight with the White House, with sharp criticism coming even from within his own conservative Likud Party.

Yuli Edelstein, a Likud lawmaker and chairman of the Israeli Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said he was “surprised” by the video. He told Israel’s “Meet the Press” program on Saturday that differences of opinion with the United States should not be handled “via video clips.”

Some Israeli political analysts have suggested that Mr. Netanyahu’s moves might be an effort to intervene in American politics ahead of the November presidential elections and give Donald Trump and the Republicans a stick with which to beat the Democrats. Mr. Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress next month.

Other experts, however, have said Mr. Netanyahu’s public affront likely has more to do with Israel’s domestic politics amid increasing signs of strain in his hawkish coalition — the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history.

“If there’s any logic to be found in a completely illogical move, one has to see all this through the prism of Netanyahu, with his political survival as his ultimate goal,” said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Mr. Netanyahu was “pandering to the extremists in Israel in the short term,” he added, “and probably creating damage for the military, for relations with the United States and for the country in the long term.”

Mr. Netanyahu on Sunday defended his actions, saying he went public based on “years of experience and the knowledge that this step was vital to opening the bottleneck,” adding, “I am willing to absorb personal attacks on behalf of the state of Israel.”

He also suggested that his public criticism might be bearing fruit.

“In light of what I have heard over the past 24 hours,” he said, “I hope and believe that this issue will be resolved in the near future.”

His continuation of the spat on Sunday and Mr. Gallant’s travel to the United States come at a critical juncture. Israel’s military has indicated that it wants to wind down the fighting in Gaza and potentially turn its attention to its northern border with Lebanon, after weeks of escalating tit-for-tat strikes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia backed by Iran.

The Biden administration has been working to try to find a diplomatic solution to avert a full-blown conflagration between Israel and Hezbollah. President Biden has also invested time and political capital endorsing an Israeli proposal for a truce in Gaza involving an exchange of hostages — including some with U.S. citizenship — for Palestinian prisoners. Hamas raised significant reservations about the proposal, and talks have been at an impasse.

Mr. Gallant was invited to Washington by his counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, according to Mr. Gallant’s office. It also said he was scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other senior American officials.

“The United States is our most important and central ally,” Mr. Gallant said shortly before his departure. “Our ties are crucial, and perhaps more important than ever, at this time,” he added.

Mr. Gallant and Mr. Netanyahu are themselves rivals who have openly clashed in recent months, even as they jointly oversee Israel’s military operations. As the Israeli prime minister has lashed out at the White House, he also has engaged in increasingly public spats with his military brass and his right-wing coalition partners.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting.

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