Gallant Heads to Washington Amid U.S.-Israel Tensions

By Yoni Weiss

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at a press conference at the Hakirya base in Tel Aviv. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant traveled to Washington on Motzoei Shabbos to meet with top American foreign policy and defense officials from Sunday to Tuesday. This visit comes amid a new crisis between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Joe Biden.

Both the southern and northern fronts are in flux. Key issues on the agenda include the future of the war and post-war Gaza policy, efforts to avoid a full-out war against the Hezbollah, the status of weapons sales, Iran policy, and other regional matters.

Due to Netanyahu’s strained relations with Biden and the absence of a fully empowered Israeli foreign minister, Gallant has frequently been the second-most critical interlocutor between the countries.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu criticized the Biden administration for delaying weapons sales. On Wednesday, one of his spokespeople claimed he had restored American weapons sales. Netanyahu referred to Biden’s public statement in May that the United States was holding up a shipment of large bombs to prevent an attack on Rafah.

Sources close to Gallant, as well as those within the IDF and the defense establishment, have blamed Netanyahu for exacerbating the weapons crisis rather than managing it diplomatically. This is particularly significant as the IDF nears taking over Rafah without significantly upsetting the U.S.

Due to the crisis, there are still questions about exactly who Gallant will meet. During his most recent Washington trip on March 25-26, he met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. He is expected to meet these officials again, along with CIA Director Bill Burns and Amos Hochstein, the envoy for the Lebanon crisis.

Some speculate that Netanyahu attacked Biden earlier in the week to claim credit for resolving the weapons crisis before Gallant’s U.S. visit. However, a mix of U.S. and Israeli sources remain unclear whether Netanyahu’s latest comments led the U.S. to pause the approval process for Israel to purchase F-15EX aircraft.

Israel had already delayed that process twice: first due to multiple rounds of elections, and more recently due to disputes between Gallant and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Smotrich sought additional oversight, which the defense establishment viewed as an attempt to politicize national security.

Israel and the U.S. have debated whether the IDF should invade Rafah and, if so, how to conduct the invasion, considering the number of Palestinian civilians killed, the general humanitarian situation in Gaza, Netanyahu’s refusal to propose a post-conflict solution for Gaza, and whether U.S. weapons support should be contingent on Israel adhering to certain American policy recommendations.

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