Former officials say US arms transfers to Israel ‘Unlawful’


Photo: Protesters outside the White House denounce U.S. arm shipments to Israel.(Photo: Amnesty International USA)

By: Jon Queally

Despite documented abuses, said one former State Department official, the weapons “are just continuing to flow.”

Ahead of the release of a much-anticipated report on how U.S. weapons have been used by Israel in its ongoing military assault on Gaza, former State Department officials came forward early Friday to contend that sales to the Israeli regime have clearly violated “legal limits.” 

Speaking to the Washington Post, Josh Paul, who worked on arm transfer policies before becoming the most senior U.S. official in the State Department to resign over the war in Gaza, explained that in addition to international laws that Israel may be breaking in Gaza, the U.S. has violated its own binding mechanisms for how weapons sold to other nations are deployed.

“Just from a legal perspective within U.S. domestic law,” said Paul, “there’s a much wider body of rules that is being ignored right now” by the Biden administration. “The arms are just continuing to flow.”

Axios reports that the anticipated report by the State Department—known as the NSM-20 (or National Security Memomardum 20)—may be made public as early as Friday, though the government has already been harshly criticized by human rights groups for delaying its release beyond a May 8 deadline.

“The Biden administration had months to put together a report on information they should already be collecting—whether grave human rights violations and other serious violations of international law are being committed using U.S.-provided weapons in seven conflicts around the world,” said Amanda Klasing, national director for government relations at Amnesty International USA, after the deadline came and went on Wednesday.

Charles Blaha, who from 2016 to 2023 worked as Director of the State Department’s Office of Security and Human Rights, told the Post that documented evidence, as well as common sense, reveals that the massive amount of U.S. arms sold to the Israelis both before and during the last seven months of fighting in Gaza have been used in gross human rights violations.

“When you look at those collapsed buildings where people are trapped underneath, the odds are that that death and destruction is being caused by a United States-supplied weapon,” explained Blaha, who co-authored an independent analysis last month exploring possible NSM-20 violations.

According to that April analysis:

The final report features sixteen clear, credible, and compelling incidents that should certainly be included in the administration’s upcoming reporting to Congress as well as an 18-page appendix of additional incidents worthy of examination. It also identifies multiple restrictions on humanitarian assistance, including strikes by the IDF, that trigger Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act (which bars military assistance to states impeding U.S. humanitarian aid) and should be reportable to Congress by the Departments of State and/or Defense under the terms of NSM-20.

Our findings were striking. Though Israel has attributed the 34,000 Palestinian casualties, 70 percent of whom are women and children, to alleged human shielding by Hamas, we found that in 11 out of the 16 incidents we analyzed, Israel did not even publicly identity a military target or attempt to justify the strike. Of the remaining five incidents, Israel publicly named targets with verification in two incidents, but no precautionary warning was given and we assess the anticipated civilian harm was known and excessive.

According to Axios‘ reporting, the NSM-20 report—which will be officially submitted to Congress for review by Secretary of State Antony Blinken upon its release—will be “highly critical report about Israel’s conduct in Gaza” but stop short of “concluding it has violated the terms for its use of U.S. weapons.”

Citing people with internal knowledge of the behind-the-scenes discussion at the State Department, Axios reports the existence of an internal “tug-of-war” in which “the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and USAID recommended Blinken conclude that Israel has violated the terms of the national security memorandum, but other parts of the department pressed Blinken to certify that it didn’t.”

In response to the reporting, Alexander Langlois, a contributing fellow at Defense Priorities, said the Biden administration hopes to have it both ways.

“As expected, the Biden admin is going to attempt (and likely fail) at threading a needle on the NSM-20 report, reported to be released today,” said Langlois. “Anyone with eyes can see what is happening here. This is a political decision and not one based on facts.”

Common Dreams