Israel’s consul general in Miami on Thursday clarified Gov. Ron DeSantis’ role in facilitating a claimed transfer of weapons and ammunition to Israel, telling McClatchy that he asked the Florida governor’s office, among other parties, to provide final clearance for a private shipment of weapons parts in the early days of the war with Hamas.
DeSantis’ office and presidential campaign said earlier in the day that he had helped ship weapons and drones to Israel at the consulate’s request, without providing details. In an interview, the consul general, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, said that a private donation of rifle inserts and other parts was scheduled to be sent on a commercial El Al flight within the first week of the war but that a final bureaucratic approval was necessary to get the shipment on the plane.
“They asked me to help. I approached a few contacts, including the governor’s office, to get the final approval,” Elbaz-Starinsky said in a telephone interview. “It went through all the process. I’m not even sure, at the end of the day, which one untangled this thing and made the shipment be approved.”
“The stakeholders who did the shipment upon the request of Israel had all of the approvals needed to send the shipment, and they were just missing the final approval,” Elbaz-Starinsky said, noting that the party needed approval from the Transportation Security Administration.
“Usually I don’t get involved in these things,” he added, “but it was really the first days of the war, everyone was panicked and stressed — everything was urgent.”
A lack of clarity from governor’s office
Earlier on Thursday, DeSantis spokesperson Jeremy Redfern said in an email that the governor’s office had been contacted by the Israeli consul general in Miami for “assistance to clear federal bureaucratic hurdles” to get weapons and ammunition to Israel through private parties. DeSantis’ presidential campaign put out a press release touting the effort as a potential boon to his candidacy.
When pressed for more details, Redfern declined to disclose the private parties or specify what the federal hurdles had been. Redfern later clarified that the state did not purchase the weapons and ammunition, and that those items “were transported separately” to Israel, without offering details on the mode of transport or source of funding.
An initial shipment of medical equipment and protective vests donated to Israel by U.S. citizens was also sent last week on two cargo planes funded by the state of Florida.
John Kirby, a national security spokesman at the White House, said Thursday that he was not aware of any coordination on the shipments between Florida and the Biden administration.
“I would certainly let the governor speak to what Florida is doing. It is not illegal for the governor of a state to offer a measure of foreign assistance to another country,” Kirby said. “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.”
Governor touts Florida’s role
The shipment of weaponry drew criticism from Florida Democrats.
“President Biden is the commander in chief of our military — not Ron DeSantis,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried. “As a Navy veteran, Ron should understand the importance of respecting the chain of command. This is a gross breach of norms and a potential violation of federal laws governing the shipment of weapons.”
DeSantis did not disclose the state’s role in shipping weapons and ammunition when he posted a graphic on X, formerly known as Twitter, touting several of the state’s efforts to help Israel amid the war.
“Thanks to all who helped make this happen,” the governor, who is running for GOP nomination for president, said in the post on Wednesday.
The secrecy surrounding how the weapons were acquired and shipped comes as the DeSantis administration has also been slow to provide information about how much the state has spent to rescue hundreds of U.S. citizens from Israel to the United States and which vendors were involved in the rescue operations.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management on Thursday – nearly two weeks after the first rescue flight arrived in Florida — said that the rescue flights are expected to cost Florida taxpayers approximately $32 million.
The price tag includes payouts to three separate organizations — ARS Global Emergency Management, TAD Recovery Services and Echo 1 Emergency Logistics Inc. — that have helped coordinate flights and identify American passengers who were seeking to flee the war zone in Israel.
ARS is the primary contractor leading the Israel rescue flights, and its purchase order has so far totaled $19 million, said Amelia Johnson, a spokesperson with the Florida Division of Emergency Management. In June, the company was also picked to help carry out DeSantis’ controversial migrant flight program.
TAD Recovery Services and Echo 1 have purchase orders of $10 million and $3 million, respectively, Johnson said.
The state has not released budgeting documents about the rescue flights because the “missions are ongoing,” Johnson added.
It is unclear when or if the state will provide documents that show the full accounting of the operations’ logistical and financial arrangements. But history has shown the DeSantis administration tends to be secretive about its handling of large-scale operations, such as the pandemic response and the governor’s plan to fly migrants from Texas to Democratic strongholds in Massachusetts and California.
In addition to the three private vendors, the state also partnered with Project Dynamo, a nonprofit organization that specializes in bringing U.S. citizens home from conflict zones around the world.
The Orlando Sentinel has reported that Project Dynamo received a $1 million donation from the Volunteer Florida Foundation last week. The foundation is funded by the state and federal government.
The payment came after Bryan Stern, the CEO of Project Dynamo, criticized aspects of how Florida’s vendors worked to get American passengers out of Israel, the Sentinel reported.
Volunteer Florida and Project Dynamo did not respond to requests for comment on the payment.
This story was updated to reflect the comments of the Israeli consul general regarding Florida’s role in getting inserts for rifles and other parts shipped to Israel.