US doubles down on its defence of arming Israel despite Gaza atrocities

Biden administration says ‘too many civilians’ killed in Gaza but reasserts commitment to supporting Israel in war.

The aftermath of Israeli strikes in Rafah
Palestinians inspect damage after an Israeli attack in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 25, 2024 [Jehad Alshrafi/Anadolu]

Washington, DC – The United States has defended its arms transfers to Israel, reasserting its commitment to the country’s security despite growing concerns about rights abuses in the Gaza Strip.

Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller was asked on Monday whether recent weapons transfers, which included fighter jets and 900kg (2,000lb) bombs, damaged the “credibility” and “sincerity” of US statements decrying the crisis in Gaza.

“I do not agree with that at all. We have been very clear that we want to see Israel do everything it can to minimise civilian casualties. We have made clear that they need to operate at all times in full compliance with international humanitarian law,” Miller said.

“At the same time, we are committed to Israel’s right to self-defence, and this is a long-term commitment the United States has made.”

The administration of President Joe Biden has been facing criticism over its policy of arming Israel, which critics say violates US laws prohibiting military aid and weapon sales to countries engaged in rights abuses.

The Washington Post reported last week that the US had approved the transfer of billions of dollars in weapons to Israel, including thousands of bombs.

Miller said on Monday that the weapons were pre-approved, stressing that the administration had notified Congress about the transfers.

He gave what he called a fictional example to describe the situation: “Let’s say they requested 100 planes. We make a decision. We notify Congress. That doesn’t mean that they take 100 planes tomorrow. … They draw those down over time, and sometimes it takes years to fulfil those requests.”

Still, the administration has the final say over what it chooses to transfer to Israel.

Unlike with military aid to Ukraine, the Pentagon and State Department have not publicly announced and detailed what the Israeli drawdowns would entail.

The weapons transfers come amid accusations that Israel is committing widespread violations of international humanitarian law — a set of rules aimed at protecting civilians in armed conflicts, including the Geneva Conventions.

Witnesses and rights groups have accused Israel of indiscriminate bombing in Gaza, targeting civilian infrastructure, mistreating detainees, extrajudicial executions and using humanitarian aid as a weapon of war, among other abuses.

But last week, the State Department said it has not found Israel to be in violation of international humanitarian law in any incident.

On Monday, Miller argued that the ongoing US arming of Israel is not just about the war in Gaza but is also designed to help the country against regional adversaries, including Iran and Hezbollah.

US officials, including Biden, have criticised Israel’s tactics in Gaza. But so far, his administration has rejected calls to place conditions on its military aid to Israel.

Miller stressed that Washington regularly urges Israel to use its weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law.

“We have had very frank conversations with them about the fact that far too many civilians have died through their operations and that they need to do better and take into account the need to minimise civilian harm, and we’ll continue to do that,” he said.

Several progressive lawmakers have urged Biden to end his unconditional support for Israel.

On Sunday, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley invoked the Easter holiday to slam the war on Gaza.

“We must also recognize that America is complicit in this tragedy by resupplying Israel with bombs and failing to use America’s leverage to increase aid delivered into Gaza,” he wrote in a series of social media posts.

“Reflecting on the admonition to feed the hungry and assist the stranger, and ‘blessed are the peacemakers,’ let’s push Team Biden to do better. More aid. No bombs.”

Source: Al Jazeera