May 26, 2015
In Blog News
23 May 15
his week the U.S. State Department approved almost $1.9 billion in new weapons for Israel. The approval comes just weeks after the Israeli rights group Breaking the Silence collected reports of possible violations of international law during Israel’s 2014 “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza.
The weapons sale includes 14,500 kits to upgrade “dumb” bombs into precision-guided munitions, over 12,000 unguided bombs, and 50 Super Penetrator “bunker buster” bombs, designed to hit targets underground.
Also approved for sale were over 3,000 hellfire missiles, which the U.S. briefly withheld from Israel following last summer’s attack on Gaza. The 50-day assault killed over 2,200 people, most of whom were civilians.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency stated in its announcement of the arms sale that “the United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability.”
“These munitions will enable Israel to maintain operational capability of its existing systems and will enhance Israel’s interoperability with the United States,” the agency said in the statement.
“These are weapons that Israel already has in its arsenal, and this shipment will help replenish the stock depleted by last year’s Gaza operation,” Gerald Steinberg, political science professor at Bar Ilan University told Bloomberg.
The sale still awaits Congressional review. However, U.S. weapons sales to Israel have very rarely run into difficulty passing though Congress.
The sale is to be funded through U.S.Foreign Military Financing grants. TheUnited States provides Israel with over $3 billion a year in Foreign Military Financing, which accounts for almost a quarter of Israel’s total defense budget. The Congressional Research Service report onU.S. aid to Israel states, “U.S. military aid has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”
Critics of U.S. military assistance to Israel have raised concerns about the sale, given possible violations of international law committed by the Israeli military during last year’s attack on Gaza. U.S. law prohibits providing military assistance to countries that engage in human rights violations.
A report from last summer found that the U.S. supplied Israel with many of the same types of weapons that were used in “Operation Protective Edge,” and an Amnesty International report last December stated that a number of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza amounted to war crimes. Amnesty also documented cases of the Israeli military attacking hospitals and health workers.
The latest allegations of war crimes came earlier this month when Israeli soldiers gave anonymous testimony about their experience in the 2014 war in Gaza.
The testimonies allege that the Israeli military didn’t institute basic measures to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. According to the testimony, Israeli soldiers were told to regard anything in Gaza as a “threat” and told that they should “not spare ammo.”
In one testimony, a staff sergeant with the mechanized infantry unit stated,
The saying was: “There’s no such thing there as a person who is uninvolved.” In that situation, anyone there is involved. Everything is dangerous; there were no special intelligence warnings such as some person, or some white vehicle arriving … No vehicle is supposed to be there – if there is one, we shoot at it. Anything that’s not “sterile” is suspect.
Other testimonies allege that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without regard for civilians who might be inside. The testimonies also describe Israeli soldiers looting Gazan’s homes and engaging in arbitrary property destruction. In one instance, an individual describes running over cars with tanks.
Perhaps most troubling was the testimony given by a sergeant first class in the Israeli Combat Intelligence Collection Corps. The sergeant stated that during debriefings the destruction waged on Gaza was referred to as “accomplishments.”
You could say they went over most of the things viewed as accomplishments. They spoke about numbers: 2,000 dead and 11,000 wounded, half a million refugees, decades worth of destruction. Harm to lots of senior Hamas members and to their homes, to their families. These were stated as accomplishments so that no one would doubt that what we did during this period was meaningful.
The State Department’s announcement of this unusually large arms sale is likely meant to reassure Israel over its concerns about the U.S.-Iranian nuclear agreement.
“The timing certainly has the appearance of calming Israeli fears about Iran,” Gerald Steinberg said.
Yiftah Shapir, who heads the Middle East Military Balance project at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, agreed. He told Bloomberg, “There’s no doubt that packaging them all together in one sale, and announcing it now, is clearly linked to the Iran agreement.”
Haaretz reported earlier this week that the U.S. has quietly made plans to provide compensation to Israel if the U.S. and Iran reach an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
According to Haaretz, this compensation includes F-35 stealth fighters, missile defense systems, and other unknown military materials. The U.S. and Israel have already agreed that Israel will buy 33 F-35s at $110 million apiece. The first planes are set to arrive in 2016. However, the Israeli military is seeking a total of 50 F-35s.
Paul Gottinger is a staff reporter at RSN whose work focuses on the Middle East and the arms industry. He can be reached on Twitter @paulgottinger or via email.