The U.S. is supplying the weapons and munitions for Israel’s pounding of Gaza, despite its new directive banning arms transfers to human rights violators.
Eight months before the Biden administration approved a massive arms deal for Israel amid its war in Gaza, President Joe Biden signed a directive prohibiting such deals for countries likely to use the weapons to attack civilian targets or direct violence against children.
Last week, multiple news organizations reported that the Biden administration approveda $320 million deal for precision-guided bomb equipment for Israel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government continues to bombard civilian targets in Gaza. The Israeli military’s siege has reportedly killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, including more than 4,000 children.
The Biden administration’s arms transfer decision — and its concurrent push for billions of dollars of additional arms sales to Israel — came less than a year after Biden issued a formal order to federal agencies forbidding weapons transfers to countries where it is “more likely than not” that the weapons will be used to engage in “attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians” or used to commit “serious acts of violence against children.”
The Secretary of State is the first department head listed on the Biden directive restricting arms transfers — and yet, the State Department approved the multimillion-dollar weapons deal, which was first reported by The New York Times.
“Given the death and destruction documented in Gaza, and the well-documented abuses in the West Bank, it is increasingly hard to see how the Biden administration can continue providing arms without violating its own conventional arms transfer policy,” Seth Binder, director of advocacy for the Project on Middle East Democracy, told The Lever.
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The tension between Biden’s February directive and his administration’s new arms transfers comes as the White House now asks lawmakers for legislation authorizing the administration to sell Israel up to $3.5 billion worth of military arms and services without Congress’ approval.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this story. But last month, the Biden administration insisted that any arms transfers to Israel would not violate the president’s directive.
“All of our arms transfers, including arms transfers to Israel, are rooted in the basic proposition that they will be used consistent with law of armed conflict,” said Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan on October 20. “There is no exception here and no difference here from any of our other arms transfers. And the president’s expectations in this regard are entirely clear, and he has stated them repeatedly, including stating them directly in his public remarks as well as privately to counterparts in the Israeli government.”
“The Value We Place On Human Rights”
The war between Israel and Hamas represents the first major test of the new policy directive, dubbed the “Conventional Arms Transfer Policy.”
In February, the White House said it would not authorize weapons transfers to countries where it is “more likely than not” that the weapons will be used to commit or “aggravate the risks” that the recipient will commit “genocide; crimes against humanity… including attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such; or other serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, including… serious acts of violence against children.”
The Biden directive was lauded by foreign policy leaders in Washington as a humanitarian initiative. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it “represents a meaningful step forward in ensuring the United States does not contribute to human rights abuses through its arms exports.”
Biden’s own State Department touted the new directive as proof that the administration “will exercise restraint and pursue a truly holistic approach to conventional arms transfers,” and better ensure that such transfers are “in the national interest, including the value we place on human rights, international humanitarian law, and security sector governance.”
“Certainly Not Acting Within The Conventional Arms Transfer Policy”
Less than a year later, Biden’s administration is delivering weapons to an Israeli government that has reportedly killed nearly 11,000 Gazans, including thousands of civilians under the age of 18.
Josh Paul, a former State Department official who resigned over the administration’s “provision of lethal arms to Israel,” recently said that the Biden administration is “certainly not acting within the conventional arms transfer policy.”
While Biden publicly questioned the number of Palestinian deaths late last month, a senior Biden official told a House panel on Thursday that the Palestinian death toll is likely “higher than is being cited.”
Israel has defended its military offensive in Gaza by asserting that it has a right to self-defense after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,400 Israelis and took more than 200 Israelis hostage. But critics have argued that it has gone beyond justifiable self-defense and committed war crimes.
Oxfam, the global anti-poverty organization, has called for the U.S. to stop selling Israel 155mm artillery shells, which are unguided and burst into thousands of fragments upon impact.
“Israel, like all countries, has legitimate defense needs. However, these particular shells do not serve them,” Oxfam said in a press release. “Instead, 155mm shells are a weapon of choice in Israel’s ground operation in Gaza, which will cause untold harm to civilians as it intensifies further. Israel’s use of this munition in past conflicts demonstrates that its use would be virtually assured to be indiscriminate, unlawful, and devastating to civilians in Gaza.”
The White House announced Thursday that Israel has agreed to four-hour daily pauses to allow civilians to flee the warzone, but a total ceasefire remains unlikely.
When Biden was asked Thursday about the possibility of Israel agreeing to a ceasefire, he responded: “None. No possibility.”