On May 16th, 2021, dozens of Israeli aircrafts were involved in the bombing of what the Israeli air-force described as “homes and offices” of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. This included two entire apartment buildings. The total number of people killed in the airstrikes in Al-Wihda street that night was 43; of them, 18 children, 12 women. Israel did not even claim any of those killed were involved in combat at the time of the attack.
US law (“The Leahy law”) requires that Department of Defense-appropriated funds may not be used for any training, equipment, or other assistance for a foreign security force unit if the Secretary of Defense has credible information that such unit has committed gross human rights violations. This is also true for arms transfer and sales of any kind. And yet US manufactured and gifted (through military aid) F35 fighter jets that have carried out bombings in Gaza throughout the current operation, and, just a week before the current bombardment of Gaza began, the US administration authorized a 735 million USD sale of precision-guided weapons to Israel. While the latest transfer of these weapons to Israel is being challenged by progressive democrats, it is important to note how US law is being ignored time and time again, when it comes to arms sales, transfer, and aid to Israel.
Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II, receiving over 146 billion USD over the past 70 years. It is also the largest recipient of US military aid at any given moment, with 3.8 billion USD worth of military aid transferred to Israel annually. Yet Israel is also currently under investigation for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, and with 54 years of military occupation of the Palestinians, the amount of documented gross human rights violations is alarming. And this goes beyond the at least 63 children that have been killed in Gaza over the past two weeks alone.
But for different economic and political reasons, US military aid to Israel is above the Leahy law. Just a month ago, 330 members of congress from both sides of the aisle wrote a letter urging to continue “full funding of security assistance to Israel.” The letter, organized by the AIPAC lobby group, came as a response to a bill introduced to congress by Congresswoman Betty McCollum prohibiting Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem for the military detention, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention; to support the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property and homes in violation of international humanitarian law; or, to extend any assistance or support for Israel’s unilateral annexation of Palestinian territory in violation of international humanitarian law. Or in other words, a law that seeks to apply existing US law regarding human rights-abusing military forces towards Israel.
The AIPAC-led letter that demanded no cuts and no condition be made to military aid to Israel was sent in a time of severe economic crisis in the US, with a deficit of 1.932 trillion USD in the first 7 months of 2021 – a 30% increase from the same period of fiscal year 2020. And yet the priority of US congressmembers was to urge for full funding for military aid to Israel. The letter also quoted President Biden stating that aid to Israel should not be conditional. This is the truth about US military aid to Israel, reflecting the general political support US gives Israel – it is unconditional. It is not conditioned by the US economic situation, it is not conditioned by human rights standards, and it is not conditioned by US law itself.
There are many reasons for this special treatment of Israel by the US political system. Some have to do with the false equation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, some have to do with the strategic role Israel plays in US relations, politics and military presence in the Middle East, some have to do with large pressure and lobby groups ranging from Zionist-evangelical PACs, to pro-Israel lobby groups, and some has to do with the US’s own economic-military interests in the aid to Israel.
That last reason is one that must be further understood and brings us back to the Israeli aircrafts bombing Al-Wihda street this week and the fact that the Israeli air force made a point of mentioning that eight F-35 planes were involved in the airstrikes on the Gaza strip. Israel is the first international operator of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, “the Department of Defense’s fifth-generation stealth aircraft, considered to be the most technologically advanced fighter jet ever made” – as a congressional research center summary of U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel stated in 2020. Israel has 50 such planes, all purchased through military aid assistance.
So far, the F35, which has only three years of operational use, has exclusively been used in combat in the Middle East, with US attacks in Afghanistan and Syria, UK missions in Syria, and Israeli missions in Syria, Lebanon, and possibly Iran. To the best of our knowledge, the ongoing offensive on Gaza at the moment, is by far the most intense use of this 5th generation fighter jet to date: a fighter jet that has been one of the Pentagon’s largest projects ever and whose increasing sales has been a clear interest of both its main manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and consecutive US administrations over the past decade. Every operational use of these planes, like any other piece of military equipment, is an opportunity for advertisement, labeling the product as “battle proven,” and therefore has the potential of increasing sales – all while being involved in human rights violations, avoiding US law, and holding to promises of “unconditional” support to Israel.
The F-35 is just one of many examples of US-manufactured equipment making its way into combat use by Israeli forces through US military aid to Israel. In short, US taxpayers foot the bill so that US arms manufacturers can transfer arms to Israel that will be used in combat, increasing their market value. Lockheed Martin themselves spent 12,960,810 USD on lobbying in 2020 alone. The 735 million USD worth of precision-ammunition technology currently debated in congress is part of the same story. This arms sale, approved before the current attack on Gaza started, is likely to eventually go through. One of the main components of the sale is the Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail-kits. A missile addition making “normal” missiles, into “smart” missiles. These systems have been integrated into Israeli F-15’s and F-16’s fighter jets. F15s and F16 have been used as part of the current attack on Gaza alongside the F-35s. Boeing is ranked as the 13th biggest lobbyist in the US, spending 12,630,000 USD on lobbying in 2020.
It is important to note, this is not just a problem when it comes to Israel. US arms manufacturers have the same interests in selling arms to Saudi, India, Brazil and many more countries with problematic human rights track records. Like in many other countries, the implementation of human rights restrictions when it comes to arms export and transfer is highly political and rarely about human rights. The difference is that in none of these other countries will you find 300 members of congress, from both sides of the aisle, willing to express unconditional support.
This scale of US political and economic interest, lobbying, and support towards Israeli military aid is what obstructs the implementation of a rather basic US piece of legislation that aims to prevent the use of US arms in human rights violations – prevent American planes and missile systems from killing innocent men, women, and children. That shouldn’t be a radical or extreme ask, but rather the bare minimum. As peace advocates, it is up to us to try to make that case as clearly and simply as possible. While we can, and should, explain the details and mechanisms of the military-industrial complexes feeding into conflict, we should also be able to translate these complex realities into the simple realities they create: US tax payers currently funding the killing of Gazan civilians, and a US political system too scared to implement the US laws in place to prevent that.
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