DeSantis says Florida helped ship weapons to Israel — a move that could boost him in GOP primaries

Florida Gov. Ron DeSandis said Thursday that he has arranged to send drones, weapons and ammunition to Israel as it prepares to invade Gaza in response to the Hamas attack. It's the latest official response DeSantis has received in support of Israel as he competes in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

Florida sent cargo planes with health care 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 privately funded weapons and ammunition, 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 that he had not requested drones, body armor or helmets, nor had he spoken to the governor about help obtaining weapons or ammunition through private parties.

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

DeSantis has often used his official powers to take actions that coincide with his larger political goals. Florida used state funds to fly immigrants from Texas to Democratic-led areas like Martha's Vineyard. And earlier this week, his government ordered state universities to dissolve the funds of a pro-Palestinian student group. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Florida has also flown in about 700 Americans removed from Israel.

The confirmation of military aid comes as DeSantis and other GOP presidential candidates are expected to attend the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual fundraiser, which begins Friday in Las Vegas. DeSantis is scheduled to speak Saturday morning to a group of Nevada Republicans 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 Israelis. DeSantis has cornered former President Donald Trump, the strong contender in the 2024 primary, and former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, and on Israel.

It is unclear whether DeSantis coordinated the arms shipments with the Biden administration. The Commerce Department regulates the overseas shipment of many types of US weapons and technology.

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

Exporting military equipment typically requires a license or other authorization from either the Commerce or State Departments, depending on the exact item, said Thomas Krueger, a foreign policy consultant at the law firm Akin Gump who specializes in international trade and has previously served . as 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 permit will be required,” Krueger said.

A Commerce Ministry spokesman said the ministry was working to “appropriately expedite requests for assistance to Israel” and was in close contact with the Israeli government, but said he could not provide details on specific transactions.


Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.