US arms shipments to Israel are questionable under American law. It should reconsider sending military aid
o Ian Williams
o guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 4 February 2009 15.30 GMT
o Article history
As they were still reassembling dog-eaten cadavers of kids in Gaza, an envelope from Aipac dropped in my mailbox. The self-proclaimed most powerful lobby in Washington had sent me a pre-printed post card to sign and mail to my congressman, urging him to support increased military aid to the Israel over the next decade.
To compound it, just before Barack Obama's inauguration, Condoleezza Rice had signed an agreement, probably written on a fig leaf, to show that Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak had got something out of their rampage across the strip. Dangerously, it implied that the US navy is going to intercept neutral ships on the high seas looking for alleged contraband being shipped to the elected authorities in Gaza. This was of course the casus belli of the 1812 war, which the US declared against Britain for stopping American ships trading with Napoleon. The memorandum does not explain what international law is being invoked for this, although it does have shades of Kennedy threatening to do the same to Soviet ships going to Cuba.
British and European governments, in a spirit of me-tooism, rushed to offer to join in.
In welcome contrast, Peter Kilfoyle, the British Labour MP, took David Miliband, the foreign secretary, to task: "On armaments for Israel, he said just a moment ago that he would very much like to see the prevention of arms going to terrorist organisations. That is the case for everybody in this House, and on the basis of what we have just heard and what he himself just said, will he undertake to ensure that no arms at all go to Israel at the moment, given that it is guilty in many people's eyes of state-sponsored terrorism with its activities in the Gaza strip?"
Perhaps an even stronger reaction was that of another MP, Sir Gerard Kaufman, who asked the Miliband "to clarify the logic whereby we can send the Royal Navy to enforce an arms ban on Hamas while continuing to sell arms to Israel, after a conflict in which 1,200 Palestinians were slaughtered and four Israelis were killed by Hamas rockets? That is an exchange rate of one Israeli life for 300 Palestinian lives." A few days earlier he had provided background: "My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count."
Amnesty International and other human rights NGOs who had seen the devastation at first hand echoed the call for an arms embargo, detailing the massive and continuing arms shipments to Israel – at a time when the country was defying UN security council resolution 1860 calling for an immediate ceasefire.
But while parliamentarians in other countries are taking their governments to task for selling arms to Israel, the case is superficially simpler for the US. It just has to stop giving them. Israel gets $3bn a year in military aid from the US, the highest figure in the world. Perhaps a telling contrast is the other alleged special relationship. In December 2006 the UK finally paid off the bill to the US for all the weapons it had to pay for to defeat Hitler in the second world war.
Uniquely Israel can use a quarter of its aid to buy the produce of its own arms factories, which leads to the perennial question of Israeli sales of US military technology to China, which has upset even the most complaisant Pentagon officials in the past.
Even more uniquely, much of what could be justified as a stimulus to American arms producers has been spent on buying refined fuel from the US, during a period when Americans were suffering from high oil prices and low supplies.
In Congress, aid to Israel is sacrosanct, regardless of what Israel does with it. No one ever complains about earmarks, pork-barrelling or ungrateful foreign aid recipients in this context. However, the arms shipments to Israel are questionable under American law on several levels as well being the equivalent of subsidising German car production to compete with Detroit.
Firstly, the weaponry is supposed to be for defence – and it really is a stretch to suggest that American-made phosphorous munitions dropping in UN schools and warehouses is defensive.
This has, of course, happened before. For example, the use of anti-personnel cluster weapons in the various incursions into Lebanon has been called into question, only to have the question shelved in embarrassment by Washington, even when the casings with US markings have been produced. Ironically, conservative hero Ronald Reagan actually stopped sales of cluster munitions to Israel in 1982 after clear evidence that Israel had breached agreements on their use.
Under US law, arms shipments should not be used to violate human rights – which suggests that Congress does not read its own state department reports on conditions in the occupied territories.
US law on arms sales also has non-proliferation elements. If Israel were to go public about its 200 or so nuclear weapons that the US so persistently ignores, arms shipments would be illegal.
Perhaps more tellingly is that the weaponry being sent may be about to put US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan in grave danger by supporting an act of naked aggression against Iran. The Israeli ambassador to Australia last week described the Gaza debacle as a "pre-introduction" for an assault on Iran and certainly the chances are that Bibi Netanyahu's election would make this even more likely.
In any case, Netanyahu supports assassinations of Palestinian leaders, refuses to countenance a Palestinian state and wants to expand settlements. In short he will be more in violation of the "road map" conditions than Hamas. Following its own logic, Washington should refuse to talk to him, let alone arm him.
Under these circumstances, in any rational world, Obama's administration should use its considerable leverage to let Israel know that there is no free lunch. If Israeli leaders want to go it alone, then they should face the risk of being on their own. There is no reason for credit-crunched American taxpayers to subsidise what rational Israeli leaders have proclaimed to be suicidal polices.
So back to the Aipac post card. I forwarded it to my congressman with "not" interposed before all the relevant verbs. But alas, Kilfoyles and Kaufmans are thin on the ground on Capitol Hill.
It is finished
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