Biden, in a Major Political Move, Weighs Leaving Israel Short of Arms With Which To Fight Hamas

White House gives Israel until Sunday to buckle to its terms, which are far tougher than America is imposing on other countries.

President Biden on March 8, 2024, at Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and Prime Minister Netanyahu at Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. AP

President Biden, keeping Prime Minister Netanyahu at arm’s length, is reportedly considering leaving Israel short of the armaments it needs to fight Hamas. Such a politically based move risks harming America’s global interests.  

By Sunday, Israel must tell America that it is complying with international restrictions on arms supplies, including by facilitating ample humanitarian assistance to Gaza, the national security adviser, Jacob Sullivan, told reporters Monday, adding that it is yet to do so.  

Meanwhile, a Jerusalem official noted a recent reduction of American arms supplies to Israel, ABC news reports. The Israel Defense Force is running out of 155 mm artillery shells and 120 mm tank shells, as well as sensitive guidance equipment, the official said. 

Last week, seven Democrats, led by Senators Van Hollen, Merkley, and Sanders, alleged that Israel is violating section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. They urged Mr. Biden to limit offensive arms to the IDF. 

As America’s arms exports reached a record high of $80.9 billion in 2023, dominating world sales, an increasing number of critics are urging a tighter enforcement of laws like the 1997 Leahy amendment, which limits offering arms to foreign militaries that are “credibly alleged to have committed human rights violations.”

Yet, how evenly are such laws enforced globally? In reality, arms are sold to foes and allies alike in all five continents, with little notice of rights violations. Mr. Biden urged Congress last month to approve the sale of F-16s to Turkey, even as it massacres Kurds in Iraq and Syria.

Last week, America signed a contract to build military camps in Somalia, which has fought a brutal war in Somaliland. Despite Egypt having indiscriminately bombed villages in Libya, among other little-noticed activities, America backs it to the tune of $1.4 billion a year since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Last September, though, Washington cited human rights concerns to divert a small sum of the Egypt aid to Taiwan and other allies. Notably, that diversion included $30 million to bolster the Lebanese Armed Forces, which the Biden administration considers a positive force in the Mideast. 

The LAF is answerable to the Hezbollah-dominated government at Beirut. The idea behind aiding it is that this army can serve as a counterweight to Hezbollah, which tops the Department of State’s terror list. Yet, Hezbollah and the LAF cooperate more often than clashing with one another.

While demands grow to deny arms to Israel, the Biden administration is begging Congress to approve $60 billion to assist the “good war” in Ukraine. Yet, human rights purists can — disingenuously — make the case that Ukraine’s bombing of Russian border cities like Belogrod is “indiscriminate.” Does it also violate arms export restrictions?

The most well-known recent case of arms denial on human rights grounds occurred early on in Mr. Biden’s presidency, when he denied offensive arms to Saudi Arabia due to attacks on civilians in Yemen. At the time, while the Khashoggi assassination dominated the talks at Washington, punishing Saudi Arabia was politically convenient. 

Later, Mr. Biden cited Yemen peace talks to reverse the Saudi arms ban. Since then, the Iran-backed Yemeni group that the Saudis had fought, the Houthis, have become a major global menace. America is now attacking Houthi targets in Yemen, where civilians are harmed even as the Houthis are hardly deterred from blocking Red Sea ship traffic.

As enforcement of rights-based limitations on arms sales hits American friends and strengthens its enemies, “the message to our allies is that America is not a good ally,” the managing editor of the Long War Journal, Bill Roggio, tells the Sun. Such policies harm American interests, he says.    

America, for one, is attempting to replace Russia as top arms supplier to India, a potential ally in the global competition with Communist China. Yet, if the White House denies arms to top ally Israel, New Delhi might rethink buying warplanes and other weapons from America: Would arms stop coming if a president deems India in violation of human rights in Kashmir? 

In a deep analysis of the Gaza war, the chairman of urban warfare studies at West Point, John Spencer, concluded that Israel “has painstakingly followed the laws of armed conflict and implemented many steps to prevent civilian casualties, despite enormous challenges.” Denying arms to Israel, then, would be a “political decision” that is “not backed by what has actually happened in Israel and Gaza,” Mr. Spencer tells the Sun. 

It could also backfire if the IDF runs out of precision bombs, Mr. Roggio adds. As in Iraq during the war there, he says, once supply of such arms dwindles, a military quickly moves to using less discriminating munitions, resulting in higher civilian casualty rates.

President Franklin Roosevelt once characterized Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza as a “son of a bitch, but he’s our SOB.” In contrast, we now seem to selectively — and in the case of Israel, unfairly — hold allies to a higher human rights standard than the one we demand of our foes.

The New York Sun

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