NEW YORK/gaza city - Israel reportedly secured weapons shipments directly from the United States military without the Obama administration approving the deal, reflecting the enormous influence the Jewish state exercises in Washington.
On July 20, days after Israel began its ground invasion in Gaza, Israel requested and received a shipment of munitions from the Pentagon, according to the Wall Street Journal. While Defence Department officials say both sides followed established protocol, the Journal reported that White House officials were upset that the military did not get White House approval before sending the shipment. The request came as the US urged Israeli restraint in its Gaza operation, and days before Israel rebuffed a cease-fire proposal from Secretary of State John Kerry on July 25.
The Obama administration put a subsequent missile shipment on hold, the report said. It is now requiring that the White House review every Israeli weapons request, rather than having the U.S. Defence Department and Israeli Defence Ministry handle transactions directly. US officials said President Barack Obama had a particularly combative phone call on Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who they say has pushed the administration aside but wants it to provide Israel with security assurances in exchange for signing onto a long-term deal.
Relations have been tense between Netanyahu’s government and the Obama administration throughout the conflict, which began on July 8. But Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said relations between the two govts were strong. ‘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,’ Israel’s US-funded missile defence system, Dermer said, according to the Journal.
Meanwhile, millions in Gaza and southern Israel on Thursday enjoyed a welcome extension to a temporary truce despite a rocky start which saw a flurry of rocket fire and air strikes.
Negotiators in Cairo brokered an 11th-hour extension to an existing truce by another five days to allow for continued negotiations on a long-term ceasefire in a conflict which has killed 1,962 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side since July 8.
The Israeli army said six Palestinian rockets struck Israel during the night, including three after the new truce came into effect at midnight.
Israeli warplanes hit back with four air strikes, Palestinian security officials told AFP, saying the skies fell silent at around 3:00 am (0000 GMT).
"An agreement to extend the ceasefire for five days has been accepted by both sides to allow more time for negotiations," an Egyptian foreign ministry statement said.
Palestinian chief negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed said the delegations had reached "agreement on many points" concerning the lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade on Gaza but needed more time to settle a number of remaining disputes.
Israel confirmed its acceptance of the Egyptian proposal and its security cabinet was meeting to discuss it further late Thursday. "Last night, after (Gaza fighters) broke the ceasefire, orders were given to respond so they responded and that's behind us. We're honouring the ceasefire and let's see what Hamas does," a senior official told AFP. But on the ground, there was great uncertainty on both sides about whether the truce between Israel and Gaza's Islamist de facto rulers would hold.
In Gaza City's battered Shejaiya neighbourhood, Mohamed Ibrahim Aateysh was brewing sweet mint tea inside his destroyed home with his family. "The ceasefire is nonsense. We want stability in the country," he said wearily. "Not having to come and go every day.
One day sleeping there, then one day coming back. As you can see my home is completely destroyed. Our whole life is now destroyed."
Israelis were to hold a mass rally in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening to demand that the government find a long-term and stable solution to the rocket fire on the south. "Enough of this unsufferable reality!" said a flyer distributed ahead of the event. "We have one very simple demand - for quiet that will allow us to lead a normal life and raise our children as other children do across the rest of Israel."
Adi Hamari from the Nirim kibbutz on the Gaza border told AFP that he had mixed feelings, pleased to be home after sheltering from the rocket attacks elsewhere but worried about the future.
"The operation may be finished, but not the war," he told AFP. "The rocket fire on our homes between each ceasefire, we call this a steady trickle of rockets but these are launches, attacks and it's our daily lot."
Israeli negotiators and various members of the Palestinian delegation have left Cairo for consultations with their respective bases. A Palestinian source said the Palestinian delegates were not expected to return to Cairo before Saturday night.
Speaking to reporters in Gaza City, Hamas politburo member Khalil al-Haya said there was "still a real chance of reaching an agreement", but only if Israel "would stop playing with words".
If observed, the latest truce should herald potentially the longest period of calm in the five-week conflict and allow more time for talks on the thorniest issues separating the two sides. An earlier truce collapsed in a firestorm of violence on August 8.
Egyptian mediators have proposed that talks on a seaport and airport in Gaza be delayed until a month after a permanent ceasefire takes effect, according to documents seen by AFP.
Negotiations over the exchange of the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would also be postponed.
Meanwhile, Israel secured supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon last month without the approval of the White House or the State Department, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Since officials there were caught off guard as they tried to restrain Israel's campaign in Gaza, the administration of President Barack Obama has tightened controls on arms shipments to Israel, the newspaper said, quoting US and Israeli officials.
But the case illustrated that the White House and the State Department have little influence over the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the paper said, quoting officials from both countries.