US to review Israeli assurances that it will not violate international law

Photo of author


The State Department has received the written assurances required by Israel, by a Sunday deadline, that its use of U.S.-supplied defense equipment does not violate international humanitarian law or U.S. human rights law, according to U.S. officials. and Israelis.

The department now has until early May to formally evaluate whether those assurances are “credible and reliable” and report to Congress under a national security memorandum issued by president biden in February. If Israel’s promises prove wanting, Biden has the option at any time to suspend any further transfers of American arms.

Friday’s delivery of the letter of assurance signed by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant comes as Israel and the Biden administration are locked in a contentious debate over Israel’s plan for a major military offensive in the city of Rafah, in southern Gaza. Biden has warned that the operation risks a humanitarian catastrophe and called it a “mistake,” according to national security adviser Jake Sullivan. The delivery of the letter was first reported by Axios.

The officials who confirmed receipt of the Israeli letter spoke on condition of anonymity about private diplomatic exchanges.

A team of senior Israeli officials will arrive in Washington early next week, at Biden’s request, to discuss the ongoing offensive. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a video address to the nation on Wednesday, said he told Biden in a phone call on Monday that it was “impossible” for Israel to prevail in its war against Hamas without entering Rafah, and that has already approved the military initiative. operational plan.

“We are determined to achieve complete victory and we will achieve it,” Netanyahu said.

Israel has long been the largest recipient of American military aid, eclipsed only by Ukraine in the past two years. from the war in gaza began with the October 7 Hamas attack, which killed about 1,200 Israelis and took at least 250 hostages, the Biden administration has accelerated the shipment of thousands of bombs and ammunition for use in more than five months of Israeli air and ground attacks inside Gaza.

According to local health authorities, nearly 32,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have died in attacks that Biden called “indiscriminate.” At the same time, Israeli restrictions on humanitarian aid entering the besieged enclave have led the United Nations and other international aid groups to warn of impending famine and rampant disease. More than half of Gaza’s pre-war population of 2.2 million are now crammed into squalid conditions in and around Rafah, with most of them taking refuge there after fleeing fighting further north.

Netanyahu has said that the Israel Defense Forces are developing a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah, although the United Nations (by far the largest distributor of aid in Gaza) has said that nowhere is safe and that it will not participate in the forced relocation. constitutes in itself a violation of international law.

This week, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam called on the Biden administration to rule that any Israeli assurances “are not credible” and impose an “immediate suspension” of arms transfers. They issued a joint report documenting what they said were clear “violations of international humanitarian law, deprivation of services critical to the survival of civilians, and arbitrary denials and restrictions of humanitarian aid.”

In January, the International Court of Justice, ruling on a lawsuit brought by South Africa, ordered Israel to take measures to prevent the possibility of genocide in their war against Hamas inside Gaza, without going so far as to say that a genocide was already occurring. He also ordered Israel to take steps to improve the situation for Palestinian civilians there.

In recent weeks, members of Congress, including Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have called on the administration to withhold military assistance if Israel does not allow more assistance to civilians in Gaza.

U.S. officials have said privately that they have considered restricting arms shipments. But concerns about losing influence under Netanyahu’s government have prevailed until now, even as the administration has become more outspoken in its disagreement with what it calls Israel’s lack of a coherent and sustainable strategy in the war.

Sullivan was asked on Monday whether the apparent failure of the White House’s public and private pleas to Israel meant conditions were needed on weapons.

“Obviously, words are not enough,” Sullivan said. “What matters is the action. And the action that matters is getting truck and ship-equivalent humanitarian assistance, particularly food, water and medicine, to people who desperately need it.” He did not mention possible restrictions on gun sales.

The national security memorandum signed by Biden on February 8 was clearly a response to growing concerns about Israel’s conduct of the war. He repeated many of the existing arms transfer rules in U.S. and international law, but included new assessment, transparency, and reporting requirements.

While the memorandum applies to more than 70 countries that receive US weapons, more restrictive reporting requirements are imposed on seven countries currently involved in armed conflict, including Israel and Ukraine. Each was given an initial 45 days for a senior official to provide “credible and reliable written assurances” that they will use American defense. material in accordance with international humanitarian law and other laws.

The law of war imposes specific requirements on targeting, protection of civilians, and treatment of prisoners. The memorandum also requires recipient countries to “facilitate and not arbitrarily deny, restrict, or otherwise impede, directly or indirectly, the transportation or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance” or international efforts supported by the United States to provide help.

Israel has repeatedly said it is not preventing aid and accused the United Nations of incompetence in distributing aid and Hamas of looting aid trucks. The administration has disputed those claims. In his State of the Union address earlier this month, Biden ordered the U.S. military to build a temporary dock for aid delivery to Gaza by sea.

But, he said, “Israel must also do its part. Israel must allow more aid to Gaza and ensure that humanitarian workers are not caught in the crossfire. … Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip.”

If the assurances provided about the use of American weapons are “challenged” by the secretary of State or Defense, the memo says, they must report that initial assessment to the president and within 45 days indicate the “appropriate next steps,” ranging from seek additional guarantees “to suspend any additional transfer of defense articles or, where appropriate, defense services.” Any such report to the president must also be notified to Congress within seven days.

The memo does not require any specific action by the president.

Any possible restrictions on the supply of weapons do not apply to air defense systems or other items intended for purely defensive or non-lethal purposes. The US government has spent billions on Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which shoots down incoming projectiles.

During the 45 days after receiving the country’s assurances, the two secretaries must conduct a detailed assessment of its reliability, including consideration of “any credible reports or accusations” of actions that violate international law, or those “inconsistent” with the “best practices” adopted by the US military.

At the end of that period, a May 8 deadline, they must submit to Congress an unclassified written report, along with corresponding in-person briefings from senior officials, on their assessment and actions.

Similar assurances and assessments will be required each fiscal year and thereafter. But this year’s initial report, the memo says, must include any information available as of January 2023 on the use of U.S. defense articles and services by any country involved in an armed conflict.

Leave a comment