New tensions between White House, Israeli PM


Protestors, one with her hands covered in red paint symbolising blood, gather near the residence of the Israeli Prime Minister during an anti-government rally calling for early elections, in Jerusalem on June 20, 2024. [AFP]

New tensions emerged this week between President Joe Biden's administration and Benjamin Netanyahu over the Israeli premier's criticism of US weapons deliveries -- comments the White House described Thursday as "vexing" and "disappointing."

The issue began when Netanyahu claimed in a video posted on social media earlier this week that the US administration -- Israel's main military backer -- has been "withholding weapons and ammunitions" from his country in recent months.

"Those comments were deeply disappointing and certainly vexing to us, given the amount of support that we have and will continue to provide," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists.

"No other country is doing more to help Israel defend itself against the threat by Hamas and, quite frankly, other threats that they're facing in the region," Kirby said.

The previous day, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that "we genuinely do not know what he's talking about."

With the exception of "one particular shipment of munitions," Jean-Pierre said "there are no other pauses. None."

She was referring to a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs that Washington has said is under review because of concerns about their use in densely populated areas.

Biden-Netanyahu tensions

But Netanyahu appeared to double down later on Thursday, saying in a statement that he is "prepared to suffer personal attacks provided that Israel receives the ammunition from the US that it needs in the war for its existence."

The spat is not the first between the head of the Israeli government and Biden's administration since the start of the Gaza war, which began with an unprecedented Hamas attack in October.

Biden previously stated his strong opposition to a major Israeli operation in Rafah in southern Gaza, where more than a million civilians were located, and threatened to stop certain arms deliveries if his warning was not heeded.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also warned Israel against escalating tensions in Lebanon as fears of a wider regional war grew with Hezbollah militants firing dozens of rockets into northern Israel.

During a meeting with top Israeli officials in Washington, Blinken "underscored the importance of avoiding further escalation in Lebanon and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes," the State Department said in a statement.

The Gaza war is a particularly thorny issue for 81-year-old Biden, who is seeking a second term in office this year.

The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and the ever-rising death toll has led to sharp criticism of the president from the progressive wing of his party -- pressure Biden has had to balance with a long-standing US policy of backing Israel.

The latest round of bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas was triggered by an unprecedented October 7 attack by Palestinian militants on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.