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US review of arms transfer to Israel: Assessing credibility amidst conflict

A man uses crutches next to a tent, in Rafah (Photo: Reuters)

In a pivotal report submitted to Congress, the Biden administration conveyed its evaluation of Israel’s use of American weapons during its conflict with Hamas in Gaza, The Times of Israel reported.

The report, released on Friday, emphasised the importance of ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law while addressing the complexities of the ongoing conflict.

Acknowledging Israel’s assurances regarding the use of US-supplied weapons, the Biden administration deemed them “credible and reliable.” However, the report also highlighted instances where Israel’s actions were deemed “inconsistent” with international humanitarian law obligations since Hamas’s attack on October 7. Despite these concerns, the administration noted the lack of complete information to verify whether Israeli forces had violated these obligations.

The report’s release followed President Biden’s directive to review Israel’s use of American weapons, amidst mounting pressure from progressive Democratic lawmakers and independent Senator Bernie Sanders to restrict arms shipments. This directive also mandated an examination of Israel’s facilitation of humanitarian aid delivery into Gaza, a region deeply affected by the conflict.

As tensions escalated, the administration sought to navigate a delicate balance between supporting Israel and addressing concerns over potential violations of humanitarian law. This balancing act was evident in recent actions, including the temporary halt of bomb shipments amid fears of an Israeli invasion and threats to cease further arms deliveries if Israel advanced into densely populated areas of Gaza.

Beyond Israel, the report encompassed several other countries, including Colombia, Iraq, Jerusalem, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Ukraine. Each country provided assurances regarding the use of US defence articles, which were reviewed by the State Department for credibility and reliability, according to The Times of Israel.

In its assessment of Israel, the report underscored the gravity of the conflict, triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack, which claimed numerous lives and led to the abduction of hostages. The report condemned Hamas for its disregard for international law, citing credible reports of atrocities committed by the group.

Turning to Israel’s military response, the report highlighted the significant loss of life in Gaza, citing figures from both Hamas-controlled sources and Israeli estimates. While the exact casualty figures remained contested, the report emphasised the need for impartial verification and differentiation between civilian and combatant casualties.

Despite Israel’s reliance on US-made defence articles, the report noted a lack of complete information regarding their specific use in alleged violations of international humanitarian law. Nonetheless, it deemed it reasonable to assess that such violations may have occurred, prompting calls for increased scrutiny and accountability.

The report raised concerns over civilian infrastructure and densely populated areas, questioning the proportionality of harm inflicted relative to military objectives. Additionally, it highlighted Israel’s purported lack of full cooperation with international efforts to facilitate humanitarian aid delivery into Gaza, though it fell short of constituting a breach of US law, according to The Times of Israel.

Efforts to address these concerns were noted, including Israel’s internal investigations into alleged violations and steps taken to improve aid delivery following diplomatic pressure from the Biden administration. However, progressive Democrats expressed frustration with the report’s findings, lamenting its perceived ambiguity and calling for more stringent limitations on arms transfers to Israel.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, a vocal critic of Israel’s military campaign, criticised the report for its contradictory nature and urged a more principled approach based on facts and law. While acknowledging the uphill battle in Congress, he warned of the potential consequences of failing to hold Israel accountable for its actions.

In contrast, Representative Michael McCaul, a Republican, denounced the review as politically motivated and reaffirmed support for Israel’s right to defend itself. He argued against any measures that could undermine Israel’s security, emphasising the need for unwavering solidarity with the US ally.

As the debate over US arms transfers to Israel continues, the Biden administration faces the challenge of balancing strategic interests with humanitarian concerns. The release of the report underscores the complexities of navigating foreign policy in the midst of conflict and highlights the ongoing efforts to uphold international norms and principles of accountability, The Times of Israel reported.