White House shows no indication of restricting weapons for Israel


WASHINGTON: U.S. weapons sales to Israel have been under increased scrutiny amid outrage over the reported deaths of tens of thousands of people in Gaza since the start of the war, including seven aid workers killed in an Israeli airstrike this week.

President Joe Biden said in a statement on Tuesday that he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the deaths, his latest stern rebuke of Israel’s war conduct.

Israel said the strike was “unintentional” and promised an investigation.

On Wednesday, Biden ignored questions about whether he would put conditions on U.S. military aid. His aides suggest the administration is unlikely to do so, citing U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the “still viable threat” from Hamas.

The administration will wait for results of Israel’s investigation, National Security Council communications adviser John Kirby told reporters Wednesday. “I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet,” he said.

In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres accused Israel of targeting the group’s food convoy “systematically, car by car.” He said he had established clear communication with the Israeli military about his aid workers’ movements.

Andres is a celebrity chef who is well-known in Washington. That and the fact that the victims included U.S.-Canadian citizen Jacob Flickinger has added a new level of outrage, including among lawmakers of Biden’s own Democratic Party, and renewed demands that the president condition military aid to Israel.

“Israel has killed more than 200 aid workers in 6 months. That’s not an accident. No more aid for Netanyahu’s war machine,” Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders said in a social media post Tuesday.

Weapons transfer

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid, nearly $4 billion a year, most of it in the form of military assistance.

Under U.S. law, the administration must notify Congress of weapons transfers to Israel that are worth more than $25 million.

In December, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved two emergency weapons transfers to Israel, bypassing the congressional review requirement for foreign military sales.

Since the October 7 Hamas attack, two additional transfers have been made public, said Josh Paul, former director at the State Department agency that handles weapons transfers, who resigned in October in protest over the U.S.’s “continued lethal assistance to Israel.”

Those two were made under the direct commercial sales process and Congress was notified, Paul told VOA. “But with less visibility, because there is less information that is provided to the public on direct commercial sales,” he said.

In addition to the four that were made public, since October 7 more than 100 arms transfers to Israel have taken place without informing Congress, mainly because the packages were structured to fall below the notification threshold, according to reporting by The Washington Post, which VOA confirmed with a Department of Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ari Tolany, director of security assistance, arms trade and technology at the Center for International Policy, said the moves amount to a “deliberate dodge of transparency” by the administration.

“When they are publicly saying that Israel needs to take more steps to protect civilians but privately pushing through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons, there’s really no credibility,” she told VOA.

The Biden administration refuses to use the most significant source of leverage it has, she said, which is “the massive amount of arms provided to Israel.”

The Post reported that the transfers included billions of dollars in bombs and fighter jets in recent weeks, even as the administration publicly criticized Israel’s intention for a ground invasion of Rafah, where 1.5 million displaced Palestinians seek safety.

Unconditional support

Since Harry Truman recognized Israel minutes after its founding in 1948, American presidents have supported the country.

Almost all have done so unconditionally, with the exception of President George H.W. Bush, who in 1991 gave Israel an ultimatum to freeze settlements on Palestinian land in exchange for $10 billion in loan guarantees.

That approach worked. But not all agree that restricting aid will effect change.

“The emotive issue of providing for a country’s means for their own defense can sometimes trigger different responses in different theaters. It’s just been a sort of inexact tool for the U.S in the past,” said Grant Rumley, a senior fellow specializing in military and security affairs at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“I think that’s internalized within this administration right now,” he told VOA. “That, coupled with the president’s long-standing commitment to Israel, is why you haven’t seen any real steps taken on this route.”

There is also the fear that putting conditions on aid may send the wrong signal to Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies, increasing the prospects of opening a second front to the conflict at Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

In March, to meet the Biden administration’s requirement set out in February, Israel provided assurances that American weapons are used in accordance with international and humanitarian law, which the administration accepted.

Those assurances are “not credible,” said Human Rights Watch and Oxfam. The rights groups submitted examples of what they call Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, including “deprivation of services critical to the survival of the civilian population, and arbitrary denial and restrictions of humanitarian aid.”

Eighty Muslim and Arab American organizations sent a similar letter to Biden on Wednesday, objecting to his “administration’s decisions to falsely declare that Israel’s war on Gaza complies with U.S. legal requirements and authorize the continued transfer of U.S.-manufactured weapons.”

The groups cited the attacks on the World Central Kitchen aid workers as the latest example of Israel’s violation of the laws of war.__VOA News