Israel “Likely” Used U.S-Supplied Weapons in Violation of International Law. That’s OK, Though, State Department Says

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In a long-awaited report, the State Department lays out numerous suspected international humanitarian violations by Israel in its war on Gaza, yet suggests no changes in policy or consequences.

The Biden administration concludes it is likely that Israel used U.S.-supplied weapons in “incidents that raise concerns” about the country’s legal compliance, while crediting Israel for investigating them.

The report also concludes Israel is not currently blocking humanitarian aid, despite “deep concerns” about “action and inaction” by the government resulting in aid delivery to Gaza that “remains insufficient.”

The State Department said it’s “reasonable to assess” that Israeli forces have used U.S. weapons in ways “inconsistent” with international humanitarian law or “best practices for mitigating civilian harm.” But at the same time, the report hedges, “it is also important to emphasize that a country’s overall commitment” to international law “is not necessarily disproven by individual [international humanitarian law] violations, so long as that country is taking appropriate steps to investigate and where appropriate determine accountability.”

The report also hedges on Israel’s responsibility for civilian casualties in Gaza. The U.S. intelligence community assessed there was “no direct indication of Israel intentionally targeting civilians,” but also “that Israel could do more to avoid civilian harm.”

“While Israel has the knowledge, experience, and tools to implement best practices for mitigating civilian harm in its military operations, the results on the ground, including high levels of civilian casualties, raise substantial questions as to whether the IDF is using them effectively in all cases.”

Friday’s report was submitted under a national security memorandum issued by the Biden administration in February. The memorandum — known as “NSM 20” — required the State Department and Defense Department to obtain “credible and reliable written assurances” that Israel was not using any U.S.-supplied weapons in violation of international law. Israel provided these assurances in mid-March.

NSM 20 also required the administration to report to Congress on whether there were any “credible reports or allegations” that undercut Israel’s assurances. In recent weeks, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and a coalition of humanitarian organizations flagged numerous incidents to Blinken.

Last month, 26 Democrats — including one of President Biden’s campaign co-chairs — questioned U.S. assertions at the time that Israel was using U.S. weapons in accordance with international law, given “mounting credible and deeply troubling reports and allegations that Israel has used U.S arms in ways that violate U.S. and international law.” This followed a similar letter sent from 17 Senate Democrats in March.

Responding to Friday’s report, an independent task force called it “at worst intentionally misleading in defense of acts and behaviors that likely violate international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.” The NSM 20 task force includes two former senior State Department officials, Charles Blaha and Josh Paul, and human rights attorney Noura Erakat. “Once again, the Biden Administration has stared the facts in the face — and then pulled the curtains shut.”

As the deadline for the administration’s report approached, officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development, joined by parts of the State Department, urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to find Israel’s commitments were not credible or reliable when it comes to allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza. “The killing of nearly 32,000 people, of which the GOI (Government of Israel) itself assesses roughly two-thirds are civilian, may well amount to a violation of the international humanitarian law requirement,” USAID wrote in a submission to Blinken, according to reporting from Reuters.

But Friday’s report concludes that Israel is not “prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance,” at least within the meaning of U.S. law.

“I guess there was a little hope for me that Blinken would rule that the assurances from Israel weren’t credible,” said an official at the U.S. Agency for International Development, who spoke with The Intercept on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

“The evidence is so clear,” the USAID official said, that “the government of Israel has systematically denied humanitarian aid” to Gaza in violation of international law. “USAID colleagues feel strongly there is only one way this could have turned out.”

In an “options memo” compiled for Blinken in recent weeks, some State Department bureaus came to the same conclusion, Reuters reported last month. In a joint submission, four bureaus raised “serious concern over non-compliance” with humanitarian law, including “unconscionably high levels of civilian harm to military advantage” and “killing humanitarian workers and journalists at an unprecedented rate.” That submission came from the bureaus of Democracy Human Rights & Labor; Population, Refugees and Migration; Global Criminal Justice; and International Organization Affairs.

Among the incidents in which the State Department says it has not been able to reach “definitive conclusions” on whether U.S.-supplied weapons were used was the killing of seven World Central Kitchen humanitarian workers, including an American.

This week, President Biden admitted for the first time that Israeli forces have used U.S. bombs to kill civilians. In December he stated that Israel was losing support over its “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza.

“For over 216 days, the world has watched Israel use weapons provided by the United States to commit mass atrocities and gross violations against Palestinians in Gaza. Civil society organizations, watchdogs, and former administration officials have documented and verified countless examples that have shown Israel’s assurances were never credible nor reliable,” said Mohammed Khader, Action Policy Manager at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “The report is grossly incomplete and is far from holding Israel accountable for violating U.S. and international law.”

The post Israel “Likely” Used U.S-Supplied Weapons in Violation of International Law. That’s OK, Though, State Department Says appeared first on The Intercept.

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