US halts rifle sales to Israel amid concerns over settler violence in West Bank

The Biden administration has once again delayed the approval of licenses for the sale of more than 20,000 US-made rifles to Israel, two US officials told Axios, highlighting concerns about attacks by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians.

Axios said the rifle deal is being subjected to another review by the State Department underscores its apprehensions regarding the Israeli government’s efforts to curb violence by extremist settlers in the West Bank.

The move signals a continued skepticism about whether enough is being done to address the issue, according to Axios.

Israel requested the rifles in the early days of the war for civilian initial response teams in villages near the borders with Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. These local teams, composed of residents receiving training and weapons from the Israeli police, are intended to act as first responders in the event of a terror attack.

Axios said the US approached the Israeli request cautiously due to concerns that Itamar Ben Gvir, the ultra-nationalist minister of national security overseeing the police, might distribute the rifles to extremist settlers in the West Bank.

Approval for export licenses from US defense companies was granted only after assurances that the weapons would not reach civilian teams in Jewish settlements, Axios added.

However, several weeks after approval, the US State Department initiated a new review of the licenses, citing concerns about settler violence and a perception that the Israeli government was not adequately addressing the issue, Axios reported.

According to Axios, the decision came after the Biden administration became alarmed by an Israeli press report revealing a secret document by the commander of the IDF central command. The document claimed that Ben Gvir had instructed the police not to arrest violent settlers in the West Bank.

“This deal isn’t moving anywhere at the moment. We need more assurances from Israel about the steps it is going to take to curb attacks by violent settlers and to make sure no new US weapons will reach settlers in the West Bank,” a US official told Axios.

A State Department spokesperson refrained from providing details, stating, “We are restricted from publicly confirming or commenting on details regarding direct commercial defense sales licensing activities.”

The State Department recently announced sanctions on several dozen Israeli settlers suspected of involvement in attacks against Palestinians. This move, banning them from traveling to the US, marked the first time the US imposed sanctions on extremist settlers since the Clinton administration, According to Axios.

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