WASHINGTON - The US administration has halted a shipment of Hellfire aerial anti-armor missiles to Israel, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing government sources.
The sources noted that Israel had requested the transfer of ammunitions directly from the Pentagon, without receiving the approval of the White House or State Department officials.
"We were blindsided," one US diplomat said, while a US defense official insisted that "there was no intent to blindside anyone. The process for this transfer was followed precisely along the lines that it should have."
According to the sources, White House officials were concerned about Israel's use of artillery, instead of precision-guided munitions in the more densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip.
The Journal reports Israel requested money for more Iron Dome interceptors from the US Defense Department mere days after the ground incursion into Gaza began. While Israeli officials told the Americans Israel had enough interceptors for the current Gaza operation, they said it wanted to replenish its stocks.
According to the Journal, the Obama administration, with Israel's consent, decided not to seek emergency funding, and instead hold the Congress vote on the $225 million military aid proposal in the fall.
While the White House had no qualms about supplying Israel with the defensive, non-lethal Iron Dome interceptors, the Journal reports Israel took another route to secure $3 million worth of lethal munitions, including 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illuminating rounds.
The request, made by Israel's Defense Ministry to the US military, was approved without needing or seeking the approval of President Barack Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry, officials told the Journal. At the same time, the standard review process was properly followed.
After the shipment of the 120-mm and 40-mm rounds caught the White House by surprise, the Pentagon was instructed to put another arms shipment to Israel - a large number of Hellfire missiles - on halt and the administraction instructed all of its defense agencies to consult with the White House and State Department before approving any additional arms requests from Israel, the Journal reported.
A US official told the paper that "the decision to scrutinize future transfers at the highest levels amounted to the United States saying 'The buck stops here. Wait a second… It's not OK anymore.'"
Meanwhile, Israel pushed to expedite the money for Iron Dome interceptors in Congress, telling lawmakers the money was urgently needed because they were running out of interceptors.
While the Israeli and American militaries worked well together, the paper describes a long line of diplomatic battles between the Obama administration and the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, noting relations between the two countries have reached another low point.
An Israeli official told the newspaper that the rift between Israel and the US has now deepened: "We've been there before with a lot of tension with us and Washington. What we have now, on top of that, is mistrust and a collision of different perspectives on the Middle East."
Obama and Netanyahu reportedly had a "particularly combative" phone call on Wednesday.
US officials are quoted by the Journal as saying the current Gaza conflict has "persuaded them that Mr. Netanyahu and his national security team are both reckless and untrustworthy."
Meanwhile Israeli officials view the Obama administration as "weak and naive" and are working to bypass the White House, working with allies in Congress and elsewhere in the US administration instead.
The Israeli officials told the Journal Netanyahu isn't worried about the tensions with the Obama administration and that he believews he can simply "wait out" Obama's term, while relying on the strong support for Israel in Congress until then.
Netanyahu is said to have used his influence in the Pentagon, Congress and lobby groups in Washington to defuse the US administration's pressure on Israel during the Gaza operation.
American officials note that while Netanyahu told them he was interested in a ceasefire, the two allies clashed over which players would take part and how to go about achieving one.
On July 25, Kerry sent Israel a draft proposal for a ceasefire, intending for the Israeli government to propose changes. Officials told the Journal that Netanyahu presented the draft to his cabinet for a vote, against the Americans' wishes and in breach of protocol. The draft was also leaked to the Israeli media.
US officials told the paper they believed "the Israeli government publicly mischaracterized Mr. Kerry's ideas with the intent of buying more time to prosecute the fight against Hamas" because they were angry the secretary of state reached out to Qatar and Turkey - Hamas' allies - for their help in securing the ceasefire. While Israel and Egypt sought to sideline Qatar and Turkey's influence with Hamas, the Americans viewed them as the only players that could convince Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.
Tensions flared again when Israeli officials leaked to the press that Netanyahu told US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that the Obama administration was "not to ever second-guess me again" about how to deal with Hamas, the paper reported.
In a punitive action, the administration decided to require White House and State Department approval for any munitions request by Israel, even routine ones. This would slow the approval process and signal to Israel the military assistance it took for granted was now closely scrutinized, according to the Journal.
Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said the allegations raised by the US officials to the paper were "unfounded."
"Israel deeply appreciates the support we have received during the recent conflict in Gaza from both the Obama administration and the Congress for Israel's right to defend itself and for increased funding of Iron Dome," Dermer told the Journal.
Meanwhile, senior political officials in Israel argued Netanyahu and Dermer were responsible for the worsening of the relations between Israel and the US administration.
"We all remember how they went behind Obama's back to help candidates during elections," they said, adding that "Netanyahu is responsible for this situation."