U.S. Cuts Off Weapons to Israel // It’s Not the First Time

Israeli soldiers prepare to enter Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border, December 11, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/ File Photo

President Joe Biden shocked the American Jewish community last week when he acknowledged he is blocking some weapons shipments to Israel and threatened to halt additional arms deliveries.
But Biden is not the first US president to take such extreme steps. Five of his predecessors likewise withheld weapons from Israel. The good news is that Israel has outlasted them all.

President Harry Truman’s recognition of the newborn State of Israel on May 14, 1948, was greeted by American Jewish leaders with heartfelt gratitude. But one congressman added a cautionary note.
“President Truman is entitled to fulsome praise for his example of statesmanship in recognizing the State of Israel,” Emanuel Celler, Democrat of Brooklyn, announced. “It is now essential for the United States to go the full way… The ridiculous [US] arms embargo should now be lifted for the benefit of the State of Israel…”
Without tanks, artillery or armored vehicles, Israel was trying to fight off five invading Arab armies, yet Truman refused to give them a single bullet.
Officially, Truman’s embargo applied to both the Arabs and the Israelis. It was supposed to be an “even-handed” way of keeping the US from being dragged into the Middle East war. But in practice, the Arabs received ample weaponry from the British and other sources, while the Israelis had to scrounge and beg for the guns they needed to survive. (Many ultimately came from Soviet-ruled Czechoslovakia.)
The embargo was so extreme that the State Department even warned the US Steel Corporation not to accept an order for 500 tons of steel plating that was needed to protect the Palestine Electric Corporation’s trucks from Arab attacks.
In February 1948, Rep. Celler exposed the fact that the administration was quietly sending Saudi Arabia surplus military landing craft. Technically, the vehicles had been “demilitarized,” but they still had “strong military potential,” Celler pointed out.
In an interesting parallel, The Washington Free Beacon revealed last week that on the same day Biden acknowledged his suspension of arms to Israel, his State Department quietly waived restrictions on the provision of US weapons to two hostile Arab countries: Lebanon, which is dominated by Hezbollah, and Qatar, which is the world’s leading financier of Hamas.
In 1948, editorials in the New York Post called Truman’s Israel policy “hypocritical and spineless” and sarcastically denounced the embargo as “friendship–Truman-style.” Third-party presidential candidate Henry Wallace tried to make it a campaign issue. The platform of Wallace’s Progressive Party called for “lifting the discriminatory arms embargo,” and Wallace himself repeatedly brought it up in his campaign speeches. At one rally, he accused Truman of “playing politics with the lives of the people of Israel.” At another, he charged that “Jewish blood lies on the hands of Mr. Truman tonight.”
So why do so many accounts of the 1948 war emphasize Truman’s recognition of Israel and ignore the embargo? Probably because all’s well that ends well. Israel won the war despite receiving no US assistance, so the lack of assistance seems less urgent in retrospect. Had the war turned out differently, Truman might today be remembered quite differently.

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