A bill before Congress could potentially hand over an unprecedented amount of “emergency” military aid to Israel, a serial human rights abuser. Clauses in the bill would green-light secret arms deals – and kill civilians.
by Kathryn Shihadah
The war between Israel and Gaza has been all over the news. Gazan fighters – the resistance group Hamas – have little in the way of weapons, and Israel is one of the world’s military superpowers – but the battle is still raging after a month.
The Biden administration, a close ally of Netanyahu’s Israeli government, promised early on to provide emergency military aid to help Israel keep to up its deadly bombardment of Gaza, and legislation is in the works. (Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Joe Biden had done this type of thing during Israel’s 2014 war against Gaza, giving Israel a quarter of a million dollars to help its forces kill 2,200 Gazans, while Gazan resistance groups killed 72 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers.)
President Biden’s original request was for $106 billion, of which $14.3 billion would be earmarked for Israel, with $61 billion for Ukraine military needs and other line items as well.
This would be big bucks for Israel – and this $14.3 billion would be on top of the $3.8 billion* we already give Israel every year in military aid (nearly $13.1 million per day).
Without the American public’s consent, American military personnel are already actively involved in the conflict in the air and on the ground. Biden has sent two US aircraft carrier strike groups, a range of fighter aircraft, and at least one Ohio-class submarine to the region. Thousands of troops have already arrived in the Middle East, with more on the way.
What’s the current status of the aid bill?
Emergency funding for Israel was the first agenda item for newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson. He separated the Israel funding from the rest of the request and tied it to de-funding of the IRS, turning it into a high-stakes partisan issue.
The Senate has vowed not to pass a bill without the Ukraine and other funding; President Biden has threatened to veto it if it comes across his desk.
All this partisan drama is likely to delay the approval of funding for Israel.
That gives Americans a little time to understand the legislation better and do something about it.
Basic contents of the bill
HR 6126 stipulates that the $14.3 billion in military aid would be used to:
- replace defense articles that were provided to Israel (and presumably used up in the last 30 days of bombing Gaza)
- reimburse the Department of Defense (DOD) for defense services and training provided to Israel
- procure Israel’s Iron Dome and David’s Sling (defense systems against incoming rockets)
- develop Israel’s Iron Beam (a new, state of the art, “speed-of-light” defense system)
- fund various State Department programs
What is in the fine print
The legislatIon – both Biden’s original request and the Republican version – includes provisions that would expand the authorities of the President to transfer defense articles and services from Department of Defense to Israel.
A clause that Biden specifically requested states that part of the $14.3 billion could be used by Israel to purchase military equipment and weapons without Congress’ knowledge. This would remove any public record of the purchases – that is, it would eliminate transparency.
Although the funding is described as an “emergency response,” it may actually be used any time before September 2025. The Israeli government may also set these funds aside for use even beyond 2025 – that is, Israel could purchase arms for years without Congress’ knowledge.
Israel gets most of its aid money at the start of each year, rather than in quarterly installments like other countries. This is significant: It means that Israel earns interest on US military aid money until it is spent – interest paid by the US, since Israel deposits these funds into an interest-bearing account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
In addition, because the US government operates at a deficit, it must borrow money in order to give it to Israel and then pay interest on it all year. Together this arrangement has at times cost US taxpayers more than $100 million every year.
What could possibly go wrong?
The Trump administration used a similar strategy in 2019 to bypass congressional review of an $8.1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan for use in their war with Yemen.
In theory, the United States “seeks to minimize civilian casualties.” The State Department may not approve the transfer of arms if it is known that they will be used intentionally against civilians.
An investigation into the Saudi-UAE-Jordan transaction revealed that the State Department had not done due diligence in assessing the risk of civilian casualties.
In fact, before this secret deal, the Saudi Coalition had a track record of producing “high rates of civilian casualties” – from March 2015 to November 2018, they caused 10,852 combat-related civilian casualties in Yemen. At least some of these involved US-made weapons, and would therefore be subject to the State Department’s arms transfer review process – a process which it failed to carry out properly, for a purchase that Congress did not oversee.
Bottom line, the US made a secret arms deal with a customer known for human rights abuse – and the sale no doubt led to the deaths of many Yemeni civilians.
Meanwhile, in Gaza
Israel has already dropped more than 25,000 tons of explosives on the Gaza Strip since October 7th. According to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, this is the equivalent of two nuclear bombs.
Those explosives have killed over 10,000 Gazans in the past month, two-thirds of them women and children. Israel has targeted residential neighborhoods, medical and humanitarian facilities, schools, and infrastructure. The UN reports that Israeli airstrikes have damaged or destroyed 260,000 housing units – 45% of all the housing units in Gaza.
This hardly seems like a country that the US should be making secret arms deals with.
We have already subsidized the killing of thousands of Palestinians.
While the pro-Israel lobby in the US is arguably the most powerful special interest group in the country, and while media coverage of the issue is demonstrably slanted toward Israel, there are growing numbers of Americans who are demanding a stop to Israel’s latest war against Gaza.
Only time will tell whether the lobby or the American public will succeed.
* The original article incorrectly stated this amount as $5.3 billion. We apologize for the error.
The headline originally stated a total of $19 billion for 2023. This was based on the 2022 defense budget – which was higher than FY 2023.
Kathryn Shihadah is an editor and staff writer for If Americans Knew. She also blogs occasionally at Palestine Home.
FURTHER READING ON THE CURRENT SITUATION IN PALESTINE AND ISRAEL:
- Essential facts about the Hamas-Gaza-Israel war
- Amnesty International: A Template for Futility
- Genocide Unfolding
- Israeli communities near Gaza are on stolen land, former owners consigned to the Gaza ghetto
- Israeli media: Palestinians recount settler, army torture amid surge in West Bank expulsions
- Media bias in Western coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza
BACKGROUND ON PALESTINE AND ISRAEL:
- No, the UN did not create Israel – its war of ethnic cleansing did it
- Israel makes childhood in Gaza a living hell
- Human rights reports on Israel-Palestine (regularly updated)
- 2022: 12 months of Israeli violence against Palestinians