HomeWorld NewsU.S. floods arms into Israel despite mounting alarm over war’s conduct

U.S. floods arms into Israel despite mounting alarm over war’s conduct

The United States has quietly approved and delivered more than 100 separate foreign military sales to Israel since the Gaza war began Oct. 7, amounting to thousands of precision-guided munitions, small diameter bombs, bunker busters, small arms and other lethal aid, U.S. officials told members of Congress in a recent classified briefing.

The triple digit figure, which has not been previously reported, is the latest indication of Washington’s extensive involvement in the polarizing five-month conflict even as top U.S. officials and lawmakers increasingly express deep reservations about Israel’s military tactics in a campaign that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health authorities.

Only two approved foreign military sales to Israel have been made public since the start of conflict: $106 million worth of tank ammunition and $147.5 million of components needed to make 155 mm shells. Those sales invited public scrutiny because the Biden administration bypassed Congress to approve the packages by invoking an emergency authority.

But in the case of the 100 other transactions, known in government-speak as Foreign Military Sales or FMS, the weapons transfers were processed without any public debate because each fell under a specific dollar amount that requires the executive branch to individually notify Congress, according to U.S. officials and lawmakers who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive military matter.

Taken together, the weapons packages amount to a massive transfer of firepower at a time when senior U.S. officials have complained that Israeli officials have fallen short on their appeals to limit civilian casualties, allow more aid into Gaza, and refrain from rhetoric calling for the permanent displacement of Palestinians.

“That’s an extraordinary number of sales over the course of a pretty short amount of time, which really strongly suggests that the Israeli campaign would not be sustainable without this level of U.S. support,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former senior Biden administration official and current president of Refugees International.

State Department spokesman Matt Miller said the Biden administration has “followed the procedures Congress itself has specified to keep members well-informed and regularly briefs members even when formal notification is not a legal requirement.”

He added that U.S. officials have “engaged Congress” on arms transfers to Israel “more than 200 times” since Hamas launched a cross-border attack into Israel that killed 1,200 people and took more than 240 hostage.

When asked about surge of weapons into Israel, some U.S. lawmakers who sit on committees with oversight of national security said the Biden administration must exercise its leverage over the government of Israel.

“You ask a lot of Americans about arm transfers to Israel right now, and they look at you like you’re crazy, like, ‘why in the world would we be sending more bombs over there?’” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), a member of the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees, said in an interview.

“These people already fled from the north to the south, and now they’re all huddled in a small piece of Gaza, and you’re going to continue to bombard them?” Castro said, referring to Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah, where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians have sought shelter.

U.S. officials have warned the Israeli government against waging an offensive in Rafah without a plan to evacuate civilians. But some Democrats worry that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will disregard Washington’s pleas as he has other U.S. demands to allow more food, water and medicine into the enclosed enclave, and to dial back the intensity of a military campaign that has leveled entire city blocks and destroyed huge numbers of homes across the strip.

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) said in an interview that the Biden administration should apply “existing standards” stipulating that the United States “shouldn’t transfer arms or equipment to places where it’s reasonably likely that those will be used to inflict civilian casualties, or to harm civilian infrastructure.”

Crow, also a member of the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees, recently petitioned Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, seeking information on “any restrictions” that the administration had put in place to ensure Israel was not using U.S. intelligence to harm civilians or civilian infrastructure.

“I am concerned that the widespread use of artillery and air power in Gaza — and the resulting level of civilian casualties — is both a strategic and moral error,” wrote Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A senior State Department official declined to provide the total number or cost of all U.S. arms transferred to Israel since Oct. 7, but described them as a mix of new sales and “active FMS cases.”

“These are items that are typical for any modern military, including one that is as sophisticated as Israel’s,” said the official.

The dearth of publicly available information about U.S. arms sales to Israel leaves unclear how many of the most recent transfers amount to the routine supply of U.S. security assistance to Israel as opposed to the rapid replenishing of munitions as a result of its bombardment of Gaza.

Israel, like most militaries, does not routinely disclose data about its weapons expenditures, but in the first week of the war, it said it had already dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza.

The lack of public information about arms deliveries has prompted some arms experts to push for reforms. “The arms transfer process lacks transparency by design,” said Josh Paul, a former State Department official who resigned in protest over the Biden administration’s Gaza policy.

The vast number of transfers since Oct. 7, largely financed by the more than $3.3 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds Washington provides to Israel every year, “is something we deserve to know as citizens of a democracy,” he said.

Republicans have largely opposed efforts to rein in U.S. arms provisions to Israel and earlier this year introduced legislation to provide an additional $17.6 billion to Israel on top of the $3.3 billion the U.S. provides annually. The Biden administration also supports additional military aid to Israel, but a package has been held up due to infighting in Congress over border security and aid to Ukraine.

What is clear is Washington’s deep involvement in the conflict, even if it isn’t the entity dropping the munitions or pulling the trigger, said Konyndyk, the former administration official.

“The U.S. cannot maintain that, on the one hand, Israel is a sovereign state that’s making its own decisions and we’re not going to second guess them, and, on the other hand, transfer this level of armament in such a short time and somehow act as if we are not directly involved,” he said.

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