After $15 billion in military aid, Israel calls alliance with the United States ‘ironclad’

Israel welcomed a US aid package signed by President Biden on Wednesday that will send around $15 billion in military aid to Israel, boosting American support for its closest ally in the Middle East despite strains in their relationship over the continuation of the war by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

“Our alliance is ironclad,” said Israel Katz, the country’s foreign minister declaration thanking Mr. Biden for signing the legislation. It was part of a long-stalled $95.3 billion aid program that had faced vehement opposition from some Republicans over its support for Ukraine, which is also part of the legislation, as is Taiwan.

Aid for Israel includes more than $5 billion to restore three of the country’s defense systems: Iron Dome, which intercepts rockets flying in high arcs; David’s Sling, which shoots down drones, missiles and rockets; and Iron Beam, designed to use laser beams to destroy incoming projectiles.

It also includes $1 billion to improve the production and development of artillery and ammunition and $2.4 billion for American military operations in the U.S. Central Command region, which includes the Middle East and parts of South Asia and of East Africa.

At the White House on Wednesday, Biden said he was authorizing “vital support to Israel,” less than two weeks after Iran attacked the country with more than 300 missiles and drones, nearly all of which were shot down. Biden also pointed out that Israel has fought Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, both supported by Iran.

“Israel’s security is paramount,” Biden said. “I will always make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself from Iran and the terrorists it supports.”

The aid bill was signed as Israel continued to make plans to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are taking refuge. The Biden administration has said it will oppose such an invasion without a workable plan to protect civilians from harm.

The legislation also provides $1 billion in additional humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza, including food, medical supplies and clean water, Biden said. “Israel must ensure that all this aid reaches the Palestinians in Gaza without delay,” she said.

Severe famine in Gaza is already widespread, and the World Food Programme, a United Nations agency, warned Wednesday that a famine could begin within six weeks without a notable increase in food deliveries.

“We are getting closer to a famine situation every day,” Gian Carlo Cirri, director of the Geneva office of the World Food Programme, told reporters. “Malnutrition among children is spreading.”

About 30% of children under 2 in Gaza are severely malnourished, Cirri said. In northern Gaza, 70% of the population is facing catastrophic levels of hunger, meaning they have exhausted almost all means to cope and are eating animal feed or selling personal possessions to buy food, she said .

“Most of them are destitute and clearly some of them are starving,” he said.

Intense heat is compounding suffering in Gaza, where many civilians have been sheltering in makeshift tents under a scorching sun as temperatures reached 39 degrees Celsius, or 102 degrees Fahrenheit, on Wednesday.

“The tent looks like it’s on fire,” said Maryam Arafat, 23, who was with her husband and their three young children in Deir al Balah, central Gaza. They had fled their home in Gaza City, which was under Israeli bombardment during the winter. “It’s so hot you can’t stand it, especially with little kids,” she said.

Mrs. Arafat said she used a piece of cardboard to ventilate her children and moistened their heads and limbs with what little water she had. The hot climate, combined with a lack of clean water, has intensified concerns about the spread of waterborne diseases in Gaza.

Despite the humanitarian crisis, the aid prevents funding from going to UNRWA, the main UN agency providing aid to Palestinians in Gaza. The United States suspended contributions to the agency this year due to Israeli allegations that a dozen agency employees participated in Hamas-led attacks on Israel on or after October 7. The United Nations is conducting an internal review of the allegations.

But an independent review commissioned by the United Nations reported this week that Israel had provided no evidence to support its accusation that many UNRWA workers were members of Hamas and other terrorist groups.

The commission recommended that UNRWA protect its neutrality by putting in place additional vetting and training of its staff and working more closely with host countries and Israel to share lists of its employees.

Oren Marmorstein, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, denounced the review after its publication, calling it “an effort to avoid the problem.”

But Germany, one of Israel’s close allies, said Wednesday it would resume funding to UNRWA, about three months after suspending payments. The announcement risks causing further strains in its long-standing ties with Israel, which have deteriorated due to differences over the war in Gaza.

Germany gave more than $200 million to UNRWA in 2023 and it is the second largest donor after the United States. Several other countries, including Australia, Canada and Sweden, have also summarized funding for UNRWA.

The United States is by far Israel’s largest arms supplier, and while the Biden administration has faced growing calls to limit or halt arms shipments, it has largely maintained its military support.

The package signed by Biden does not place any conditions on military aid to Israel. This has been a flashpoint for some liberal Democrats who have become more vocal in criticizing the Israeli military’s conduct in Gaza, where more than 34,000 people have been killed, according to the territory’s health authorities.

When asked Wednesday whether the Biden administration would toughen U.S. aid to an Israeli military unit accused of human rights abuses, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said the issue was for the State Department to decide and that the White House would not intervene.

The State Department is considering action against Israel’s Netzah Yehuda military battalion under a U.S. law that prohibits American equipment, funds and training from going to foreign military units believed to be responsible for serious human rights abuses. The unit was investigated in Israel for crimes committed in the West Bank before the October 7 attacks.

Reporting contribution was provided by Catie Edmondson, Robert Jimison, Raja Abdulrahim, Ameera Harouda AND Bengali shashank.