American official confirms 500-pound munitions en route to Israel, while transfer of 2,000-pound bombs remains frozen over concerns their use could harm civilians

Illustrative: US airmen perform a final check of the stowed twin wings on four ground-training Guided Bomb Unit-39 small-diameter bombs loaded on an F-15E Strike Eagle at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on Aug. 1, 2006 (US Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung) .

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has released about half of the shipment of heavy bombs it has withheld from Israel since May over concerns the IDF would use them in densely populated areas of Gaza, a US official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

In May, the White House announced a decision to withhold a shipment of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs, with US President Joe Biden threatening to freeze additional offensive weaponry if Israel launched a major military offensive in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah where over one million Palestinians were sheltering at the time.

Israel subsequently tailored its operations to account for the administration’s concerns about mass-civilian casualties, and the sides were on track to resolving the issue of the withheld shipment, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

But last month, Netanyahu publicly claimed the US had adopted a broader policy of withholding weapons shipments from Israel, infuriating the Biden administration and setting back efforts to at least partially release the withheld shipment of high-payload bombs, according to the Israeli official.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other officials from his office managed to smooth some of the disagreements during visits to Washington in late June, the Israeli official added, pointing to the US decision to now release the 1,700 500-pound bombs.

Netanyahu has claimed that he only went public with the dispute over weapon transfers after months of efforts to solve the issue privately failed. The US after Gallant’s visit acknowledged that some bottlenecks had accumulated in the weapon transfer system but insisted bureaucracy, not politics were behind them and that they have since been addressed.

US President Joe Biden, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Pool Photo via AP)

Confirming that the 500-pound bombs were en route to Israel, the US official indicated the primary reason those particular munitions were held up in the first place was that they happened to have been part of a shipment with the more lethal 2,000-pound bombs.

“We’ve been clear that our concern has been on the end-use of the 2,000-pound bombs, particularly in advance of Israel’s Rafah campaign, which they have announced they are concluding,” the US official said.

Israel has said it plans to wrap up its tailored Rafah operation in the coming weeks and shift to lower-intensity fighting that will largely feature pinpointed raids in areas of Gaza where Hamas tries to regroup.

“Because of how these shipments are put together, other munitions may sometimes be co-mingled. That’s what happened here with the 500-pound bombs,” the US official continued.

“Since our main concern had been and remains the potential use of 2,000-pound bombs in Rafah and elsewhere in Gaza, the 500-pound bombs are moving forward as part of the usual process,” the US official said, offering no indication if or when the heavier munitions will be released.

As reported by The Times of Israel