Yet another dangerous bill puts weapons for Israel above US law

Today, Janet Abou-Elias and Lillian Mauldin of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency have a column in The Hill arguing against congressional efforts to override presidential pauses of arms shipments. The “Maintaining Our Ironclad Commitment to Israel’s Security Act,” introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), would prevent the president from pausing or delaying the delivery of weapons to Israel without noticing Congress 15 days beforehand of the intent to pause. They write:

Withholding U.S. security assistance has historically been an important check to ensure that allies comply with U.S. national security objectives and international law. Not only that, the U.S. is obligated by its own laws to withhold military assistance from countries that restrict the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid and from any unit of a foreign security force that has committed a gross violation of human rights.

The author of the latter law himself, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), recently argued that Leahy laws should apply to Israel.

Read the rest of the piece here.

New Insensitive Munitions may pose lingering toxic threat

Hanna Homestead is the Director of the Climate and Militarism Program at the Center for International Policy.

In February, the Washington Post reported the story of Hind Rajab, a six year old Palestinian child who spent the last three hours of her life trapped in a car with seven dead members of her family, pleading for help. The family was following evacuation orders from the Israeli military when their car was targeted. An ambulance was then dispatched to rescue Hind with permission from Israeli authorities. Despite being clearly marked as a medical transport vehicle, radioing its location, and following the approved route provided by the Israeli military, the paramedics came under heavy fire. Further investigation by the Post found the destruction of the ambulance was “consistent with the use of a round fired by Israeli tanks, according to six munitions experts.” The fragment of a US-made 120mm tank-fired round was reportedly found near the charred vehicle, which had a visible foot-wide hole consistent with the exit of a tank projectile.

Given nearly two weeks had elapsed before it was safe to investigate the scene, experts could not definitively verify the fragment was directly involved in the strike. However, satellite imagery proved that Israeli tanks capable of firing 120mm rounds were in the area when the attack on the ambulance occurred. In December, the Biden Administration bypassed Congress – a highly controversial move – to approve the transfer of nearly 14,000 anti-tank 120mm MPAT rounds to Israel despite evidence of ongoing, indiscriminate, and systematic targeting of civilians.

The transfer of US-made explosive weapons, including 120mm MPAT rounds, 155mm artillery shells, and Mark-84 unguided bombs are playing a central role in the Israeli government’s genocidal efforts to “make Gaza uninhabitable,” resulting in Hind’s death as well as more than 30,000 civilians over the last six months. Even spent, the remains of the round poses a toxic risk. Explosive weapons contain chemicals and heavy metals that contaminate water and soil for generations, fueling displacement and food and economic insecurity that threatens regional and geopolitical stability. Both the detonation and production of explosive weapons contribute to severe and long-lasting-environmental contamination, resulting in direct deaths and civilian harm that continues long after the explosions occur. Recent Pentagon efforts to make munitions “safer” for military personnel not only downplay, but threaten to exacerbate these widespread toxic legacies.

Munitions, made in America

Within the US, the production of explosive weapons has resulted in massive amounts of pollution and ecological destruction. There are currently more than 40,000 military sites across US states and territories that are contaminated with toxic military waste and legacy explosives, creating significant and cascading public health challenges. The DoD has already spent more than $40 billion attempting to clean them up, and recent estimates by the Government Accountability Office found the DoD faces at least $91 billion in future environmental liability costs. Historically-marginalized populations are particularly at risk of harm from toxic contamination. Superfund sites are more likely to exist in low-income areas, and are correlated with lower life expectancy in the surrounding communities.

The US is currently in the process of ramping up explosive munitions production to continue arms transfers and to replenish depleted domestic weapons stockpiles after significant amounts of defense equipment were transferred to Ukraine and Israel over the last two years. Not only are production rates increasing significantly, but the DoD is transitioning from producing larger-caliber munitions containing legacy energetic materials (explosives, nominally TNT and RDX) to those made with “insensitive” high explosives (IHE), also referred to as insensitive munitions (IM). Insensitive munitions are designed to be less reactive to stimuli and therefore safer to transport and store, an understandable goal when stockpiling explosives. This function is perceived to be both necessary and advantageous by the DoD and members of Congress interested in producing a larger war reserve to avoid future stockpile depletion.

In December 2023, defense giant BAE Systems was awarded a DoD contract worth $8.8 billion to produce the insensitive high explosive IMX-101 to be used as a “safe and effective” replacement for TNT in new artillery rounds. IMX-101 is the main explosive fill used in new 155mm M795 projectile production – currently one of the most highly sought-after munitions – replacing the legacy 155mm M107 projectile. While the development of IMX-101 has been in the pipeline for decades, the increased demand for ammunition from Ukraine and Israel, as well as competition to modernize vis a vis China, has spurred Congress to “expedite” testing and oversight to hasten the production of weapons made with IHE.

While offering functional advantages, the full impact of insensitive munitions on human and ecological health is not yet known, and what data is available raises concerns. Experts infer that some of the chemical compositions of IHE are likely to differ considerably from legacy explosives in their properties, and “therefore, also in their effect and behavior in the environment.” Yet, the DoD maintains there is limited information in the literature regarding human toxicity and adverse health effects due to exposure to insensitive explosives, including IMX-101. It is also unclear how environmental assessments and data on IHE that do exist are evaluated or incorporated into ongoing IM manufacturing, training, and operational planning. While IM weapons have been described as a way the military can “have [its] cake and eat it, too,” a closer look at the development of the 155mm M795 projectile made with IMX-101 raises a number of concerns.

IMX-101 appeared on the scene in 2010, after being named one of “The 50 Best Inventions of 2010” by TIME Magazine for its promise to replace TNT as a “less dangerous explosive.” Early testing of IMX-101 weapons was fast-tracked from what’s typically a five-year test period to two, and did not include comprehensive assessments of the ecological toxicology of the compound or its residues resulting from its production or operational use. Qualification testing of 155mm projectiles made with IMX-101 generally focused on the weapon’s performance, showcasing how IM projectiles can withstand various catalysts while maintaining lethality when deployed as intended. The results were published along with DoD assurances that “IMX-101 and its ingredients were found to be less toxic than RDX and the IMX-101 detonation products were calculated to be benign.” However, research conducted at the DoD’s Picatinny Arsenal used to certify the low-risk profile of IMX-101 shells has since been retracted due to inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the data. The original DoD 2009 study (no longer publicly available) indicated over 99.99% of all energetic material was destroyed during detonation, signifying the munition did not pose a contamination risk.

Eight years later, subsequent field experiments funded by the DoD Environmental Restoration Program demonstrated that in fact, over 30% of some energetic compounds remain after detonation – meaning the IM shell poses a significantly higher risk of environmental contamination than originally reported. Further DoD research has shown IM munitions deposit more residues than legacy explosives. These residues can persist in the environment for long periods of time following detonation, as research has indicated “the half-life of munition particles was estimated to range between 66 and 228 years for IMX-101.” A revised 2019 toxicology assessment of IMX-101 released by the US Army Public Health Center also points to a number of primary adverse health and reproductive effects on animal and plant life following exposure to IMX-101 compounds and recommends further testing, noting the DoD’s lack of comprehensive and long-term studies on IMX’s human and ecological toxicity. Numerous researchers have since published findings on the toxic effects of IMX-101 and its degraded residues – including their potential to have greater contamination risks than TNT or RDX.

Additionally, while research shows the “dud” rates for IM munitions do not differ significantly from legacy explosives, the DoD’s Defense Systems Analysis Center has indicated the disposal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) made with IHE, like IMX-101, may require up to 400% more explosives than legacy munitions given their “insensitive” characteristic. This carries significant implications for post-conflict remediation of unexploded ordnance and pollution of military testing sites. UXO must be removed and detonated, otherwise they degrade and leak poison indefinitely, irreversibly contaminating soil and groundwater.

The challenge of UXO removal is of particular concern in Gaza due Israel’s excessive bombing in urban settings, where munitions experts say there is a higher rate of failed detonation. The use of IMX-101 munitions, including the thousands of 155mm M795 projectiles the US is currently supplying to Israel, has the potential to significantly increase the cost of environmental remediation which is already expected to require tens of billions of dollars and take many years to complete. Environmental justice, including the remediation of ecological damage caused by Israel’s heavy bombardment and ongoing siege, will be critical to the safe return of displaced Palestinians to Gaza and to lasting regional peace.

Despite mounting evidence of the need for greater oversight over insensitive munitions modernization, Congress has continued to loosen the reins. The FY 2024 NDAA passed in December established a new Joint Energetics Transition Office within the DoD to “expedite testing, evaluation, and acquisition” of “new” energetic materials. Military personnel in charge of procurement report they have “a lot of freedom to maneuver now” due to the new programs Congress has authorized.

Aftermathematics

The expedited approval and production of new insensitive munitions without adequate understanding, transparency, or planning in regard to their toxicity or long-term contamination risks comes as research is revealing the extensive impact of legacy RDX and TNT contamination on human health and the environment. For decades, the DoD fought against environmental oversight, claiming “environmental cleanups would come at the expense of the safety of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

According to ProPublica reporting, when the US went to war in Iraq in 2003, top Pentagon officials led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attempted to shield the DoD from nearly all environmental oversight measures to preserve “readiness.” Though these efforts failed, throughout the following years the Pentagon sought to undermine accountability for pollution caused by weapons production, including funding and publishing studies downplaying the health and ecological risks of producing legacy explosives. Today’s focus on weapon’s modernization at the expense of adequate environmental testing sounds eerily familiar. In addition to expediting IMX-101 production, the FY2024 NDAA included authorization for the Pentagon to test warheads and propellants using the insensitive energetic material CL20, despite a 2007 DoD study indicating CL-20 residues likely pose a significant toxic ecological risk.

Efforts to clean up contamination caused by legacy weapon’s production and testing are currently underway within the United States, thanks to the persistent organizing of frontline communities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced an additional $1 billion in new Superfund program funding, which includes military sites. Other types of military-related pollution such as radiation exposure due to nuclear weapons development and testing and PFAS contamination are also being recognized as serious public health concerns. Veterans who were exposed to toxic substances from burn pits, which include UXO disposal, are finally being provided with health benefits after decades of denied claims. While much more still needs to be done domestically, there are currently no legal requirements to address toxic legacies of war abroad caused by US weapons that are deployed directly by US troops or transferred abroad. Americans rarely have insights into the devastating and destabilizing long-term effects these weapons have on foreign populations.

The DoD procurement decisions being made today will have long-term, global impacts. Congress must realistically assess the risks of IM procurement and deployment in order to make an accurate judgment on if the marginal tactical advantages outweigh the human, moral, geopolitical, and financial costs of ecological destruction. Further, Congress should take proactive steps to ensure the comprehensive health effects are accurately assessed and publicly disclosed. The production of IM munitions must not continue the destructive history of legacy explosive contaminants – which will impact affected communities in the US and internationally for decades, and potentially permanently. Congressional oversight is especially important now as the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Chevron deference this year, limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate and mitigate pollution harms.

The US also has a terrible track record in regard to remediating environmental war contamination.

Given that available data show that insensitive munitions may be more difficult, expensive, and environmentally harmful to dispose of (potentially requiring 400% more explosives to detonate), Congress should ensure this information is incorporated and budgeted for in post-conflict remediation planning. Considering the US Army’s poor history with UXO disposal via burn pits in the past, Congress should ensure that the Pentagon plans for IMX UXOs before deployment and adopts principles for assisting victims of toxic remnants of war into their operating policies. This matters immediately, from the first responders making perilous rescue runs the moment the guns are silenced. And it matters long term, as bomb disposal crews clean up and people return to make a life out of the rubble.

For too long, the true human and ecological costs of war have been excluded from foreign policy discourse. Weapons are ultimately made for one purpose: to kill. “Insensitive” munitions are no different; their use inevitably contributes to the destruction of each other’s children, our communities, and the biodiversity of our earth on which all life depends. The toxic ecological effects of these weapons must not be regarded as externalities or secondary to their battlefield functionality; environmental contamination negatively impacts conditions for long-term peace and global security and should be included in a realistic accounting of the costs of war. Ultimately, the best way to avoid these horrors – from mass death to environmental degradation to unexploded ordnance – is for policymakers to abide by and uphold human rights, and commit to resolving political disputes through diplomatic means.

AI and Israel’s Dystopian Promise of War without Responsibility

Khaldoun Khelil is an energy and international security scholar with over 20 years of experience in the oil and gas industry and served as the Energy and Security Scholar at the Middle East Institute. He writes on culture, politics, technology, and games.

As Israel has executed its assault on Gaza, it has turned to new technology to facilitate the selection and ostensible legitimization of targets. The net effect is six months of horrors deployed against the people of Gaza. Among these tools facilitating the slaughter of Palestinians is a constellation of Artificial Intelligence programs that seemingly pick targets with little to no human oversight.

In November 2023, a multitude of publications, including the Guardian, +972 Magazine, and Al Jazeera, reported claims from the Israeli military that ramped up use of Artificial Intelligence facilitated its volume of attacks and destruction in Gaza. The program reported in November carries the grandiose name “the Gospel”; another program reported in April 2024 carries the innocuous name Lavender. The primary function of these algorithmic tools is reportedly to pick targets for Israel to blast apart with its US-supplied munitions. A former Israeli intelligence officer, speaking to +972 Magazine, described the Gospel AI as a “mass assassination factory.” The results can be seen in the incredibly high death toll in Gaza with over 33,000 Palestinians killed and at least 75,000 wounded by Israeli fire.

Prior to the use of AI tools, Israel would take up to a year to identify 50 targets in Gaza. Now with the assistance of the Gospel, Israel claims they produce 100 credible targets a day. Israel’s Lavender AI program reportedly marked an astounding 37,000 Palestinians for death as “suspected militants.”

This exponential leap in targeting is one factor explaining the unprecedented civilian death toll in Gaza inflicted by Israeli forces. Additional automated systems reported in +972, including one perversely called “Where’s Daddy?”, were used specifically to track targeted individuals and carry out bombings when they had entered their family’s residences, basically ensuring mass casualty events. In fact, Israel would purposefully use massive 2000-pound ‘dumb’ bombs on these targets if they were believed to be “junior” militants to cut down on the perceived expenses of using a guided munition. The Israelis were more concerned with the cost in bombs than the cost in civilian lives.

Targeting residences means accepting not just families as collateral damage in the strike, but also destroying residences, making them uninhabitable. Previous reporting also showed that Israeli forces termed high-rise residential buildings and critical infrastructure as “power targets” in the assumption that their destruction would demoralize Palestinian civilians.  As Yuvul Abraham reported regarding Gospel AI, “The bombing of power targets, according to intelligence sources who had first-hand experience with its application in Gaza in the past, is mainly intended to harm Palestinian civil society: to ‘create a shock’ that, among other things, will reverberate powerfully and ‘lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas,’ as one source put it.”

As with many other AI systems, Israel’s Gospel and Lavender are seemingly black boxes that spit out irreproducible results drawn from source material of varying reliability. While the same Israeli sources insist that Gospel’s targets are cleared through human hands, that is little comfort considering Gospel produces over 100 targets a day and a human reviewer would have no reliable way to penetrate the system’s black box to ascertain how a target was selected, nor incentive to do so. In Gaza, Israel is relying on AI systems to decide whom to kill, with humans being relegated to “rubber stamps” in the overall process.

The quantity of targets produced by Gospel alone would make any meaningful oversight daunting, but the nature of AI also means that the exact process by which Gospel chooses its targets can never be dissected or reproduced. In the case of Lavender AI, its targeting pronouncements against Palestinians were essentially treated as orders with “no requirement to independently check why the machine made that choice or to examine the raw intelligence data on which it is based.”

One of the few emerging international norms around AI in warfare is the concept of keeping a human at the heart of any decision to take a human life. In short, robots and algorithms should not be making the ultimate decision on whether a living breathing person is annihilated. Israel’s reckless implementation of AI in Gaza is undermining this norm before it has even had the chance to fully establish itself.

Was a target chosen because it best fit current military necessity? Or was it chosen because of a biased input or an unwillingness to uphold civilian protection norms? These questions potentially become unanswerable when Artificial Intelligence is being used so close to the end of a very violent decision tree. Even chat-based AI that has the seemingly straightforward task of parsing out Wikipedia information in conversational paragraphs sometimes “hallucinates,” creating fake facts to flesh out their stories. What assurances are there for commanders, soldiers, policy makers, and humanitarian observers that a targeting AI is not hallucinating the data on which it validates targets?

While fully autonomous fighting platforms are likely still many years off, the reality of AI software that can effectively sift through an avalanche of data to identify threats and opportunities is already here. In the US, the Biden administration has simultaneously released a “Political Declaration on Responsible Military Use of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy” while allowing the US Army to move forward with Palantir’s Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN). While the declaration is a brief statement that calls upon endorsing nations to have a dialogue about the responsible use of AI, the TITAN project provides over $178 million to Palantir to develop a program that will integrate artificial intelligence with other technology being used by American ground forces. In a jargon-rich press release, TITAN promises to “rapidly process sensor data received from Space, High Altitude, Aerial and Terrestrial layers” and reduce “the sensor-to-shooter timeline.” Judging by the experience of Israel’s AI in target selection, reducing the “sensor-to-shooter” timeline can allow for attacking targets faster, but is absolutely no guarantee of ensuring the target is properly selected, or that the human evaluating target selection is anything more than a rubber stamp.

Israel’s Gospel AI places humans on the wrong end of the targeting process and significantly reduces our ability to judge if a specific bombing or missile strike was justified. We cannot truly peer within the Gospel’s “brain” as it’s a black box, though the datasets used to train AI are likely based on existing targeting data sets, and carry within them additional biases reproduced by machine learning algorithms. By giving these AI systems, such as Gospel and Lavender, the power to choose targets, Israel obscures who should be held to account as civilian deaths mount. Given the many credible accusations of war crimes against the Israeli military, this may be the most compelling feature of AI for them. As an IBM presentation slide succinctly stated in 1979, “A computer can never be held accountable, therefore a computer must never make management decisions.” When the decision to take a human life lies functionally with a computer program, systems like ‘Lavender’ and ‘Gospel’ shift responsibility, and thus accountability, to a machine that can never be meaningfully questioned, judged or punished.

US policymakers would be wise to look at Israel’s AI abetted and indiscriminate onslaught in Gaza as a warning. We may still be a long way off from fully autonomous targeting systems and true Artificial Intelligence making objective choices concerning life or death, but today a more insidious and stark reality already confronts us. The imperfect systems currently labeled as AI cannot be allowed to supplant real living decisionmakers when it comes to matters of life and death, especially when it comes to picking where and how to use some of the world’s deadliest weapons.

In Gaza we see an “indiscriminate” and “over the top” bombing campaign being actively rebranded by Israel as a technological step up, when in actuality there is currently no evidence that their so-called Gospel has produced results qualitatively better than those made by minds of flesh and blood. Instead, Israel’s AI has produced an endless list of targets with a decidedly lower threshold for civilian casualties. Human eyes and intelligence are demoted to rubber stamping a conveyor belt of targets as fast they can be bombed.

It’s a path that the US military and policy makers should not only be wary of treading, but should reject loudly and clearly. In the future we may develop technology worthy of the name Artificial Intelligence, but we are not there yet. Currently the only promise a system such as Gospel AI holds is the power to occlude responsibility, to allow blame to fall on the machine picking the victims instead of the mortals providing the data.

The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine

This week marks six months since the horrific Hamas-led October 7, 2023 attack and atrocities against civilians in southern Israel, followed by the devastating and often indiscriminate Israeli assault on Gaza. At least two-thirds of the more than 30,000 Palestinian dead are civilians, with more than one million people on the brink of a famine that is already starving children to death. In addition to the more than 1,150 Israelis killed in Hamas’ initial attack, some 130 Israeli hostages remain in captivity in Gaza. 

This memo updates our recommended steps for the Biden Administration to take to stop the fighting, end the nightmare faced by Palestinian civilians and Israeli hostages, and ensure the security, rights and well-being of Israelis and Palestinians in the longer term.

Continue reading “The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine”

CIP joins NGO letter urging Biden to comply with 602I in Gaza

Today, more than 25 humanitarian and rights groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to reevaluate unconditional arms transfers and other security assistance to Israel in compliance with existing US law, which prohibits the United States from providing security assistance or arms sales to any country when the President is made aware that the government “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.”

“President Biden has rightly made the rule of law and its impartial application central tenets of his administration. He must adhere to the standard he set and follow the law with regard to Israel’s restricting of critical aid to Gaza, rather than continuing to make an exception for it,” urged Dylan Williams, Vice President for Government Affairs at the Center for International Policy.

March 12, 2024

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Biden,

We write to express our deep concern regarding continued U.S. security assistance to Israel despite Israeli restrictions on humanitarian aid, an apparent violation of U.S. law. We demand that you urgently comply with U.S. law and end U.S. support for catastrophic human suffering in Gaza.

On March 2, the United States began its first airdrops of humanitarian aid into Gaza – a risky, expensive, and ineffective method for assisting civilians that is widely considered an option of last resort. On March 7, your administration announced that it would build a floating pier along the Gaza coast to bring aid to the population. Both efforts are the latest implicit recognition of Israel’s severe restrictions on humanitarian access amid extraordinary human suffering. Your administration has now publicly recognized what humanitarian organizations have reported for months: that the government of Israel is obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid to starving Palestinians.

Gaza’s health ministry reports that more than 30,000 Palestinians – at least two-thirds of them women and children – have been killed in Gaza and over 70,000 wounded, with thousands more estimated to be buried under the rubble. Over 90 percent of people in Gaza are acutely food insecure, with a growing number of children dying of starvation and dehydration. Over 75 percent of Gaza’s population is already displaced, and the level of damage to shelter and infrastructure means people increasingly have nowhere safe to go nor reliable provisions if and when they move. As civilians face bombardment, disease, and starvation, lifesaving health care is increasingly inaccessible.

The United States is a leading donor of the humanitarian response in Gaza. Secretary Blinken has called on Israel to “maximize every possible means” to get aid to Gazans, noting that “the situation, as it stands, is simply unacceptable.” And you have rightly said you will accept “no more excuses” for continued obstacles to aid. But since October 7, the government of Israel has failed to facilitate the entry of sufficient humanitarian aid, including through additional border crossings into Gaza and northern Gaza in particular; blocked the entry of many humanitarian aid trucks; denied humanitarian access requests; enforced arbitrary customs restrictions on humanitarian goods; and attacked humanitarian workers and their facilities as well as civilians seeking aid. Longtime U.S. implementing partners around the world have come under attack in Gaza, and lifesaving U.S.-funded humanitarian aid has been blocked from entering Gaza. Just last week, hours after your State of the Union address, an Israeli airstrike on a housing complex hosting displaced people killed a humanitarian aid worker employed by a US-based NGO.

These restrictions are not isolated instances but the policy of the government of Israel: as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated clearly on October 18, “We will not allow humanitarian assistance in the form of food and medicines from our territory to the Gaza Strip.” While Israel has subsequently allowed some aid into Gaza, it remains far from sufficient – a fact that Netanyahu confirmed when he stated in January that Israel was only allowing a “minimum” amount of relief into Gaza. During your own State of the Union address, you implicitly acknowledged that Israel was using humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip. Human Rights Watch and Oxfam have determined that the Israeli government is committing a war crime by using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to provide Israel with unconditional arms transfers and other security assistance. This not only facilitates Israel’s harmful conduct, but also appears to violate Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act (22 U.S.C. § 2378–1), which prohibits the United States from providing security assistance or arms sales to any country when the President is made aware that the government “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.”

U.S. weapons, security assistance, and blanket political support have contributed to an unparalleled humanitarian crisis and possible war crimes in Gaza. We demand that you urgently comply with U.S. law, end U.S. support for catastrophic human suffering in Gaza, and use your leverage to protect civilians and ensure the impartial provision of humanitarian assistance.

Signed,

Airwars
American Friends Service Committee
Amnesty International USA
Anera
Arms Control Association
Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)
Center for International Policy
Charity & Security Network
Demand Progress Education Fund
Foreign Policy for America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Human Rights Watch
Humanity & Inclusion
MADRE
Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC)
MPower Change
Norwegian Refugee Council USA
Oxfam America
PAX
Peace Action
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Refugees International
U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights Action (USCPR Action)
Win Without War
Zomia Center

The Biden Administration Cannot Avoid Scrutiny of Arms to Israel

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to reports that the Biden Administration sought to bypass congressional review and accompanying public scrutiny of massive arms transfers to Israel by dividing them into more than 100 smaller deliveries that individually fell under the threshold for mandatory notification to Congress under U.S. law, Ari Tolany, the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor (SAM) director, issued the following statement:

“This doesn’t just seem like an attempt to avoid technical compliance with U.S. arms export law, it’s an extremely troubling way to avoid transparency and accountability on a high-profile issue.

“These arms laws and notification requirements exist precisely so that American lawmakers and taxpayers can evaluate the appropriateness of transferring U.S. weapons systems to a context like the devastating conflict in Gaza. Providing assistance to an active conflict should raise our standards of transparency and accountability, not diminish them. The fact that this glut of deadly arms has enabled massive civilian suffering in a bombardment that President Biden has himself called ‘indiscriminate,’ and that these transfers have continued despite the administration’s acknowledgement that Israel is blocking U.S. humanitarian aid, makes this move all the more disturbing.”

“Congress needs to step in immediately and demand a suspension in arms transfers to Israel until it can be sure such transfers can be conducted in full compliance with all relevant U.S. law – as well as our related obligations under international humanitarian law.”

Senate Emergency Appropriations Bill Would Harm US Interests and Values, Human Security in the Middle East

The Center for International Policy commends efforts by Senators supporting vitally important aid to Ukraine to construct a viable legislative vehicle in a Congress rendered increasingly dysfunctional by rising rightwing extremism in its ranks. With Ukraine’s financial and military resources rapidly dwindling as it struggles to repel Russia’s illegal invasion, assistance from the United States is critical. We also commend lawmakers seeking to include more than $10 billion to address dire humanitarian crises around the world. 

We therefore regret that, despite the good faith efforts of many lawmakers, the bill as currently written is nonetheless unacceptably unbalanced by provisions that are deeply harmful to US interests and values, as well as human security in the Middle East.

In contrast to Ukraine’s demonstrated need for funds and arms to counter Russia’s expansionist military assault and occupation, the bill’s $14 billion in further US taxpayer funding for weapons for Israel to use in its devastating campaign in Gaza is neither financially, militarily nor morally justified.

With a per capita GDP greater than that of the UK, Canada and Japan – and more than twelve times that of Ukraine — Israel has not made the case to Congress or American taxpayers that it will be unable to carry out essential, legitimate defense activities without such financial assistance. Such extraordinary additional aid the Israeli government is especially inappropriate in light of its ministers continuing to spend Israel’s own funds on projects in illegal West Bank settlements, while urging Israel’s financial institutions to defy new US anti-terrorism sanctions.

While Israel has the right and responsibility to defend its people and take military action in response to Hamas’ horrific October 7, 2023 attack, Israel’s campaign in Gaza is failing to achieve its own stated objectives of rescuing the Israelis taken hostage or “eliminating” Hamas from the territory. Instead, Israel’s disproportionate bombardment and near-total siege of the territory with US weapons has resulted in approximately 27,000 deaths – two-thirds of which Israel itself estimates are civilians – including more than 11,000 children, as multiple Israeli ministers call for the mass forced displacement of Gaza’s residents.

Despite calls by lawmakers for conditions on further military assistance to prevent Israel’s continued use of US arms in a manner that President Biden himself has twice called “indiscriminate,” the proposed bill not only fails to include any such safeguards, but would reduce already insufficient opportunities for Congressional oversight of weapons sales to Israel under federal law. The new White House National Security Memorandum requiring foreign military aid recipients like Israel to adhere to international humanitarian and relevant US law is a step in the right direction, but not a sufficient replacement for durable, statutorily binding safeguards – especially in light of the Biden administration’s repeated resistance to enforcing existing human rights and arms control laws with regard to Israel.

Additionally, as Gaza’s civilian population faces a crisis of starvation and disease, the legislation unconscionably prohibits any of the humanitarian aid it allocates, as well as any previously appropriated aid funding, from being used for contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – the main provider of lifesaving aid and services in the territory. Far from addressing the growing threat to US and regional security that the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza represents, this bill would cruelly exacerbate it, while increasing the prospects of the United States being drawn into another costly and avoidable quagmire in the region.

​​Time and again we have seen the folly of pursuing military measures without transparency or accountability mechanisms and without due attention to civilian well-being. We urge lawmakers to redress these deficiencies in the bill, so that its other components vital to global human security can move forward.

###

Foreign Military Sales Under Congressional Notification Thresholds: Dangers and Solutions

Under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) have different congressional reporting requirements based on the type of items being sold, whether the sale is DCS or FMS, the recipient, and the dollar value of the sale. If the dollar value of a sale is lower than a reporting requirement threshold, Congress does not have to be notified, and information does not have to be made public. DOS and components of the DOD share responsibility for FMS, including the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which issues public notifications of over threshold FMS. (Source: GAO-20-386). There is an unknown number of FMS cases which have gone unreported. The total dollar value of these sales is unknown, but it is likely to be in the billions (Source: DOS ISP-I-20-19). Failing to counter this growing problem will beget additional issues relating to financial inconsistency, lack of congressional and administrative transparency, and potential involvement of U.S. defense articles and
services in human rights violations.

Read Full article below.