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DeSantis says Florida helped send weapons to Israel

A silhouette of Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking during a campaign event.
Charlie Neibergall
FILE - Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event, Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in Clive, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

DeSantis's office says the state has arranged to send drones, weapons and ammunition to Israel as it prepares for an incursion of Gaza.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday he's arranged to send drones, weapons and ammunition to Israel as it prepares for an incursion of Gaza in response to Hamas' attack. It's the latest official response DeSantis has taken to back Israel as he competes in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

Florida has sent cargo planes with healthcare supplies, drones, body armor and helmets, said Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for the governor's office. The state also worked with groups to supply unspecified amounts of weapons and ammunition that were privately funded, Redfern said.

The governor’s office said it acted at the request of Israel’s consul general in Miami. Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, the consul general, initially said Thursday he did not request drones, body armor or helmets, nor had he talked to the governor about help getting weapons or ammunition through private parties.

Elbaz-Starinsky said later Thursday that others in the Israeli government had communicated with DeSantis’ office to determine what would be sent to Israel.

DeSantis has often applied his official powers to take actions that coincide with his larger political goals. Florida used state funds to fly migrants from Texas to Democratic-led areas such as Martha’s Vineyard. And earlier this week, his administration ordered state universities to disband chapters of a pro-Palestinian student group. Since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, Florida has also run flights for about 700 Americans evacuated from Israel.

The confirmation of the military aid comes as DeSantis and other GOP presidential contenders are expected to attend the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual gathering of donors, which kicks off Friday in Las Vegas. DeSantis is scheduled to speak Saturday morning to a Nevada Republican group at a casino-resort on the Las Vegas Strip.

DeSantis and the other candidates have largely lined up behind Israel and accused President Joe Biden of not doing enough to support the Israelis. DeSantis has swiped at former President Donald Trump, the heavy front-runner in the 2024 primary, and former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley over Israel as well.

It’s unclear whether DeSantis coordinated shipments of any weapons with the Biden administration. The Commerce Department regulates the shipment abroad of many types of U.S. weapons and technology.

“It is not illegal for the governor of a state to offer a measure of foreign assistance to another country," said John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House's National Security Council. "There are laws and regulations which govern how the export process is handled and that’s all done through Commerce. I couldn’t speak with authority today about whether the governor has checked all those boxes or not.”

The export of military equipment would typically require a license or some other authorization from either the Commerce or State Departments, depending on the precise item, said Thomas Krueger, a foreign policy adviser at the Akin Gump law firm who specializes in international trade and previously served as the director of strategic trade and nonproliferation at the National Security Council.

“It really all depends on the specifications of the items themselves, to determine what kind of export authorization would be required,” Krueger said.

A Commerce Department spokesman said the department was working to “appropriately expedite applications for assistance to Israel" and was in close contact with the Israeli government, but said he could not provide details on particular transactions.

Updated: October 26, 2023 at 5:01 PM EDT
This story was updated with the consul general's follow-up, the governor's latest statement and a statement from Commerce Department. Corrects reference to Krueger as a lawyer. He is a foreign policy adviser.
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