US bombs for genocide

Karam Said, Saturday 25 May 2024

A sums up of the recent, insubstantial disagreements between the US and Israel over military aid.

US bombs for genocide
Members of US House of Representatives passed a bill to force Biden to send weapons to Israel (photo: AFP)


In a rebuke to US President Joe Biden for delaying some shipments of weapons to Israel if it launches a major ground incursion into Rafah, the US House of Representatives passed a bill, on 15 May, to force Biden to send the weapons to Israel. The Israel Security Assistance Support Act was approved by most Republicans and some Democrats.

As ceasefire negotiations were still in progress at the time Biden paused the weapons shipment, the decision was also seen as a way to pressure Israel into agreeing to a ceasefire. The large majority of the House that voted in favour of the bill reflects the overwhelming support for Israel among the US political class, regardless of the undercurrent of tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv.

In April, the House of Representatives passed a $95 billion foreign assistance package for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. The tranche for Israel amounted to $26.4 billion. The Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, as that portion of the package was called, was approved by a vote of 366-58.

The US has been Israel’s main supplier of advanced weapons for decades. Israel is also the largest recipient of US foreign aid. Under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2016, the US committed to $3.8 billion per year in defence aid to Israel for a ten-year period starting in 2019. Of this, $3.3 billion a year is for ordinary defence aid and $500 million per year is for ballistic missile defence (BMD). These amounts represent a significant increase over the previous ten-year MoU that went into effect in 2009, which allocated to $3 billion annually to Israeli defence.

The weapons shipments that Biden temporarily suspended accounted for only a fraction of the weapons that the US has been sending to Israel almost daily since 7 October. The Biden administration approved and delivered over 100 arms sales to Israel since 7 October, according to a Washington Post report in March. Each sale was just below the threshold that would require Congressional approval.

But US support for Israel goes beyond weapons. Washington has also opposed the proposal of the Arab Summit in Bahrain on 16 May “to deploy international protection and peacekeeping forces under the United Nations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory until the two-state solution is implemented.” Such a force could potentially “compromise” the Israeli mission to defeat Hamas, the US State Department spokesman said.

US President Joe Biden has stressed that he would not send US troops to support Israel in its war, but it has continued to send weapons. Indeed, even before the House’s vote on 15 May, Biden told lawmakers that he planned to send more than $1 billion in military aid to Israel.

Washington sees Israel as a strategic ally and a forward base for the defence of US interests in the Middle East. It is therefore determined to help Israel compensate for the heavy losses the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) have sustained on the ground in their confrontation with the Palestinian resistance and to help Israel develop its military capacities to strike the pockets of the resistance in Gaza, especially in the tunnels which are difficult to penetrate using conventional weapons.

Another significant sign of the zeal with which Washington backs Israel is the absence of practical support for the two-state solution. It has made no efforts to promote the practical foundations for the establishment of a Palestinian state or to exert a minimum amount of pressure on Israel to work towards this end. Indeed, Washington’s rhetorical support for the two-state solution is increasingly feeble as it caves to every Israeli attempt to undermine the possibility for such a solution.

Washington may also see the war in Gaza as an opportunity to reengage in the Middle East and regain some of the ground it has been losing to Russian and Chinese influence, which it fears might jeopardise its interests in the Middle East and North Africa. Russia’s military presence in the region has expanded beyond Syria to Libya and, more recently, the Sahel and Sahara. Simultaneously, Chinese diplomacy has achieved remarkable inroads, in part by dint of its support for the Palestinian cause.

Against the backdrop of scenes of massive death and destruction Israel is inflicting in Gaza, China’s support for the Palestinians can only strengthen its influence and image across the Middle East and North Africa. In this context, the congressional act to compel Biden to resume arms shipments and his administration’s decision to reject the Arab Summit’s proposal to deploy a peacekeeping force in the Occupied Territories send the message that Washington will not be leaving the region soon, and that one of its main reasons to stay is to secure its Israeli ally.

This message is mainly directed to the US’ and Israel’s regional adversaries, above all Iran and its proxies. A low intensity conflict between Israel and Hizbullah has been ongoing since 7 October. But recently, tensions escalated sharply between Iran and Israel after the latter bombed the Iranian Embassy Complex in Damascus, precipitating the first direct military exchange between the two countries. Clearly, the White House and Congress want to demonstrate that Washington has the ability to deter Iran and its proxies.

Washington’s position on Israel is shared by the main European powers.  Germany, France, and Britain have shrugged off UN appeals to suspend arms exports to Israel on the grounds that Israel is using them to indiscriminately target the civilian population in Gaza.

On 9 May, the British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that his country would not follow the Biden administration in withholding arms sales to Israel if it invaded Rafah. He pointed out that the volume of British weapons supplies to Israel could not compare to that of the US. “The US is a massive state supplier of weapons to Israel,” he said. “I think our defence exports to Israel are responsible for significantly less than one per cent of their total.”

Germany also refused to restrict arms exports to Israel, even though German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said, on 10 May, that his country was considering the option if Israel proceeds with its plan to invade Rafah.

The actions of Washington belie whatever sentiments its officials may express regarding the loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza. The Biden administration’s continued arms sales, apart from the brief hold-up of a shipment or two, and Congress’ overwhelming support for unrestricted arms Israel with no oversight speak for the US political class’ determination to ignore the systematic genocide Israel is perpetrating in Gaza.

As always with the US, whether the White House or Congress, it is Israel right or wrong, regardless of whether that wrong claims hundreds of thousands of victims.  Washington will never oppose what is incompatible with the interests of the Israeli leadership, however extreme. This includes opposition to jettisoning the two-state solution which Tel Aviv now openly rejects.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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