Israel’s use of United States weapons, according to the US, probably broke global law.

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Israel’s use of United States weapons, according to the US, probably broke global law. The Biden administration stated on Friday that although wartime circumstances prevented American officials from being confident that specific attacks by Israel infringed under international humanitarian law, the use of weaponry supplied by the United States by Israel in Gaza did so.

Released in a summary of a report being submitted to Congress on Friday, the finding of “reasonable” evidence to conclude that the U.S. ally had violated international law in its conduct of the conflict in Gaza constitutes the most robust such assertion from Biden officials.

However, the qualification that the United States was not able to instantly connect certain American weapons to specific Israeli military actions in Gaza may allow the administration some flexibility in the future when deciding whether to limit the supply of offensive weapons to Israel.

Compelled by fellow Democrats in Congress, President Joe Biden ordered this unique evaluation. Nearly 35,000 Palestinians, primarily women and children, have died as a result of airstrikes, ground combat, and assistance limitations over the past seven months. 

Although U.S. officials were unable to obtain all the necessary information regarding individual strikes, the report used an acronym for international humanitarian law to state that “given Israel’s significant reliance on U.S.-made defense articles, it is reasonable to assess that defense articles… have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its IHL obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm.”

“The results on the ground, including high levels of civilian casualties, raise substantial questions as to whether the IDF is using them effectively in all cases,” the assessment stated, even though Israel’s military possesses the experience, equipment, and know-how to minimize injury to civilians.

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In his backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign against Hamas, Biden has attempted to toe the increasingly thin line. Due in large part to Israeli limitations on the flow of food and aid into Gaza, he has been the target of escalating hostility both domestically and internationally over the rising number of Palestinian deaths and the beginning of famine. Netanyahu’s vow to intensify the Israeli military’s offensive in the populated southern city of Rafah, despite Biden’s emphatic opposition, has escalated tensions even further in recent weeks.

Biden is facing up against Donald Trump in the last months of a challenging reelection campaign. Republicans have criticized him for allegedly wavering in his support for Israel during its time of need, while a large number of Democrats have demanded that he stop supplying Israel with offensive weaponry.

Concerned about Israel’s impending attack on Rafah, a southern city home to over a million Palestinians, the Democratic administration halted the shipment of 3,500 bombs, marking one of the first moves toward limiting military aid to Israel, according to a senior administration official. 

According to the presidential directive issued in February, the State and Defense departments were required to “conduct an assessment of any credible reports or allegations that such defense articles and, as appropriate, defense services have been used in a manner not consistent with international law, including international humanitarian law.”

As part of the agreement, they were also required to report to Congress on any actions they believed to be Israel’s “arbitrarily to deny, restrict, or otherwise impede, directly or indirectly,” the delivery of any humanitarian supplies that the United States sponsored to starving civilians in Gaza.

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The Biden administration disputes claims made by lawmakers and other supporters of the review that Biden and other American presidents have applied a double standard when enforcing laws limiting how foreign military use U.S. assistance. They had pushed the administration to conduct a clear-cut legal assessment of whether there was sufficient proof that specific Israeli airstrikes against educational institutions, densely populated areas, medical personnel, aid convoys, and other targets, as well as limitations on aid supplies into Gaza, violated the laws of war and human rights.

A U.S. ruling against Israel, according to its opponents, would erode its power at a time when it is fighting Hamas and other organizations sponsored by Iran. Any scathing criticism of Israel will undoubtedly increase pressure on Biden to stop arming and funding Israel’s armed forces and exacerbate tensions with Netanyahu’s hard-right administration over how it is handling the battle against Hamas.

Any verdict that goes against Israel may also jeopardize Biden’s candidacy this year because of some supporters who strongly favor Israel.

When the White House consented to the assessment, it was attempting to thwart efforts by Democratic lawmakers and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders to begin limiting arms exports to Israel.

Israel began its war after around 1,200 Palestinians were murdered in a Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7. Health officials in the area report that women and children have made up two-thirds of the Palestinians killed since then. According to U.S. and U.N. authorities, Israel’s food supply restrictions since October 7 have caused a complete famine in the northern Gaza region.

Human rights organizations have long accused Israeli security personnel of abusing Palestinians and Israeli politicians of not holding those involved accountable. The highest court in the United Nations ordered Israel to cease the military offensive in Gaza. Still, it refrained from demanding an end to murder, destruction, or acts of genocide in a case submitted by South Africa in January.

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Israel claims to be abiding by all international and U.S. law, to be looking into claims of mistreatment by Israeli security forces, and to be waging a campaign in Gaza that is commensurate with the existential threat it claims Hamas poses.

In December, Biden claimed that Israel was losing international support due to “indiscriminate bombing.” The Biden administration first hinted that it might stop providing military aid to Israel if it didn’t alter how it was handling the conflict and humanitarian aid after Israeli forces attacked and murdered seven relief workers from the World Central Kitchen in April.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were the last to publicly refuse to give up weaponry or military funding to pressure Israel to alter its behavior in the area or against the Palestinian people.

Israeli strikes on aid convoys, journalists, hospitals, schools, refugee centers, and other locations were described in a report to the Biden administration by an unofficial, self-constituted council made up of military specialists, academics, and former State Department employees. They contended that the number of civilian casualties from those strikes—such as the one on October 31 on an apartment building, which is said to have claimed 106 lives—was out of proportion to the damage done to any military objective. 

Credit: PBS