The Commerce Department recently instituted a 90-day block on new firearm export licenses, but there were a couple of notable exceptions in the Commerce Department’s order. New commercial export licenses to Ukraine are still being approved, according to the agency’s own release, and Israel is another country granted an exception to the department’s order. But as the New York Times reports, a planned sale of some 24,000 rifles to the Israeli government is now being questioned by State Department officials and some Democratic lawmakers “who fear the weapons might end up in the hands of settlers and civilian militias.”
The three proposed tranches of semiautomatic and automatic rifles are valued at $34 million and are being ordered directly from American gunmakers, but they require State Department approval and congressional notification. Israel says the rifles would be used by the national police force, but has also indicated that they could be given to civilians, people familiar with the weapons orders told The New York Times.
The State Department gave informal notification of the sale last week to congressional committees, which ignited concerns and prompted requests for the department to ask Israel tougher questions about how it intends to use the arms. Within the department, officials working on human rights issues have expressed reservations, while those overseeing weapons sales intend to approve the orders and announce them in the coming days, U.S. officials say.
The Israeli government says it’s handed thousands of government-owned arms to citizens since Hamas launched its assault on the country last month, and the guns the government wants to purchase would replenish the armaments of the National Police. There are some elements within the State Department and Congress, however, who say they’re concerned that the guns would make their way to civilians in the West Bank. Joe Biden has previously declared that “extremist settlers” are adding to the conflict in the area, and we already know how much Biden despises the thought of anyone actually owning a semi-automatic rifle for self-defense.
Israeli officials and settlers say the mass distribution of weapons to civilians is necessary to prevent a repeat of the Hamas-led attacks last month on southern Israeli towns, when unarmed civilians were forced to defend themselves for hours before security forces arrived. The national security ministry, which oversees the police and is run by Mr. Ben-Gvir, says the newly armed civilians will be organized into what it describes as “security squads” in each city that are trained by the police and placed under the control of the local police force.
“Guns in the right hands save lives! We saw that in the first days of the war,” said Mr. Ben-Gvir, who has criminal convictions for anti-Arab incitement and support for a terrorist group.
“Every place there were guns, the scope of the catastrophe was smaller,” he added in a social media post.
In parallel, the government has made it easier for citizens to obtain gun licenses, a move that Mr. Ben-Gvir has said will allow 400,000 more civilians, or roughly 4 percent of the population, to get a gun.
It stands to reason that the White House might have reservations about sending thousands of semi-automatic and select-fire rifles to Israel while trying to ban the sale and possession of modern sporting rifles here at home. At the very least it would be a glaring act of hypocrisy from the administration, but Biden is also trying to navigate the fractures among Democrats that have grown much larger and deeper since Hamas launched its terror assault last month. Sending small arms to Israel that may very well end up in the hands of private citizens isn’t going to sit well with the Democrats’ pro-Hamas wing or gun control activists, especially with Ben-Gvir daring to publicly state that guns in the right hands save lives.
That is definitely not the message that anti-gunners want amplified by the administration in any way, shape, or form. Still, it remains to be seen where there’s enough opposition within the State Department to derail the sale. I’d say pass the popcorn and enjoy Biden’s struggle session, but there truly are lives at stake here and I just hope that the sale does go through over the objections of the civilian disarmament movement here at home.