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Two top congressional Democrats approve $18bn sale of F-15 fighter jets to Israel

Gregory Meeks and Ben Cardin sign off on F-15 sale, while Israel boasts about record defence exports
Israel's F-15 Eagle fighter plane performs during the graduation ceremony of Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim base in the Negev desert on 29 June 2023 (Jack Guez/AFP)

Two top Democrat holdouts in US Congress have put their support behind an $18bn sale of 50 F-15 fighter jets to Israel, lifting the last remaining hurdle for the sale to move forward, several major newspapers have reported.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs commitee, and Senator Ben Cardin, who currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, both announced that they signed off on the deal under pressure from President Joe Biden's administration after the lawmakers had held up supporting the deal over their concerns about Israel's conduct in the war on Gaza.

"Any issues or concerns Chair Cardin had were addressed through our ongoing consultations with the [Biden] administration, and that's why he felt it appropriate to allow this case to move forward," Eric Harris, communications director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Washington Post in a statement.

Cardin and Meeks, according to the newspaper, signed off on the sale several weeks ago.

In April, Meeks announced that he would be holding up the sale.

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"I don't want the kinds of weapons that Israel has to be utilised to have more deaths," Meeks told CNN in April. "I want to make sure that humanitarian aid gets in. I don't want people starving to death, and I want Hamas to release the hostages. And I want a two-state solution."

Cardin, who last year blocked a portion of military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns, was opposing the sale in support of his colleague and not because he held criticism about Israel's military conduct, according to the Washington Post.

The sale comes amid scattered criticisms among Democrats and Republicans of the Biden administration for continuing to greenlight arms transfers to Israel, despite the death toll in Gaza reaching more than 37,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children.

Israel says its arms exports hit record sales amid war on Gaza
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Since Israel's war on Gaza began last October, Israeli forces have destroyed much of Gaza's civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, mosques and UN shelters.

More than 50 Democrats sent a letter in April calling on Biden to halt the transfer of offensive weapons sales to Israel.

However, more than 100 lawmakers sent a letter to Biden this week, condeming the president's decision to pause a single arms transfer to Israel.

The Biden administration has transferred hundreds of millions of dollars worth of arms and munitions to Israel over the past eight months.

Israel's defence ministry on Monday released a statement saying that its arms exports for 2023 had reached a new record of $13bn, with one company, Rafael, saying that it should prioritise the international market rather than the domestic one, despite the demand for arms amid the ongoing war on Gaza.

"If Rafael wants to be able to provide for Israel as well as stay ahead of the game in research and development, we need international markets, which are our only assurance for real growth," Gideon Weiss, the company's vice president for international business development, said in a statement given to Bloomberg.

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