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US Congress passes bill increasing weapons in Israel by $200 million

December 20, 2014 at 2:15 pm

The US Senate has unanimously passed a bill supplying Israel with military equipment that would enable it to execute an air strike on Iran. The bill, titled the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, includes the sale of advanced aerial refueling tankers, which refuel fighter jets in midflight – necessary for Israeli fighter jets to reach targets in Iran. This is particularly noteworthy since the Bush administration had refused to provide Israel with refueling tankers.

The sale of the refueling tankers follows a 2013 arms sale to Israel that included V-22 Ospreys. Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution stated shortly after the sale that Ospreys are “the ideal platform for sending Israeli special forces into Iran.”

The bill, which was also passed in the House earlier this year, expands the US weapons stockpile in Israel by a value of $200 million, to a total of $1.8 billion. Israel used weapons from this stockpile during its most recent military operation against Gaza, “Operation Protective Edge.” Israel also used the stockpile during its 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

The bill has generated concern among experts. Mike Coogan, legislative coordinator at US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told us that the air refueling capabilities, expanded satellite cooperation, and access to US satellite data that the bill would grant Israel “sounds quite dangerous.”

“It sounds like a formula for attacking Iran.”

The bill may also be in violation of the Leahy Law, which prohibits US weapons exports to military units responsible for consistent human rights violations. Israel’s most recent major military offensive, “Protective Edge,” would seem to have violated elementary human rights.

Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on Palestinian rights and professor of international law at Princeton, at the time of the operation remarked, “the evidence that I’m aware of suggests the commission of serious crimes against humanity and war crimes in the course of this operation.”

The UN high commissioner for human rights likewise suggested that there was “a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.” The UN secretary general condemned the high civilian death toll Israel inflicted upon the Palestinians: “I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians.” Amnesty International called on the UN to “impose an arms embargo on Israel/Gaza.”

Andrew Feinstein, former minister of Parliament for South Africa and arms industry expert, told us that the bill is “in flagrant violation of the International Arms Trade Treaty, which the US supported and which prohibits the export of weaponry to countries engaged in conflict or where conflicts are likely to be extended or intensified by such exports.”

“It is further proof of the heinous role that the US plays as the biggest seller of weapons globally and reminds us again of US complicity in the continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, which violates numerous international laws, conventions and UN resolutions. Israel continues to act as a shop window for US weapons at the cost of the lives of thousands of innocent Palestinians.”

Coogan was also critical of the expanded access to weapons stockpiles that the bill would afford Israel. He said, “it’s morally, financially, and legally problematic to continue to give Israel access to the weapons stockpiles, particularly in light of how they used them in their war on Gaza this summer.”

“It looked like, for a time, the Obama admin actually suspended a shipment of weapons to Israel – specifically, hellfire missiles – but then apparently started to resend those. But the thought behind the original suspension was that Israel was using it in violation of international law and US law.”

“I think it was shown by numerous human rights organizations that Israel was using ammunition stored in those forward-deployed stockpiles in clear violation of US and int’l law. So it’s a mystery to us why a country of laws – purportedly – would continue to give Israel access to weapons that it uses in flagrant violations of those laws.”

Retired political science professor and Israel expert Norman Finkelstein told us that the significance of the bill is that, “for all the bad blood between Obama and Netanyahu, nothing fundamental has changed in the US-Israel strategic relationship.”

This article previously appeared in Reader Supported News

Ken Klippenstein is a journalist at Reader Supported News. He can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or via email: [email protected]

Paul Gottinger is an independent journalist whose work focuses on the Middle East and the arms industry. He can be reached on Twitter @paulgottinger or via email: [email protected]

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.