newsIsrael at War

J’lem must sign promise to abide by int’l law while using US weapons

The Biden administration provided the letter requiring Israel's signature on Tuesday.

U.S. President Joe Biden, joined by first lady Jill Biden, in the Library of the White House, March 31, 2021. Photo by Adam Schultz/The White House.
U.S. President Joe Biden, joined by first lady Jill Biden, in the Library of the White House, March 31, 2021. Photo by Adam Schultz/The White House.

Israel has until mid-March to sign a letter assuring the U.S. it will abide by international law when using U.S. weapons, Axios reported, citing unnamed U.S. and Israeli officials.

The Biden administration provided the letter requiring Israel’s signature on Tuesday, three officials told the news site.

Written assurances are required under a Feb. 8 memorandum issued by President Joe Biden and titled “National Security Memorandum on Safeguards and Accountability With Respect to Transferred Defense Articles and Defense Services.”

“I am issuing this memorandum, which requires the Secretary of State to obtain certain credible and reliable written assurances from foreign governments receiving defense articles and, as appropriate, defense services, from the Departments of State and Defense,” the president states in the memorandum. 

While it doesn’t single out Israel, the memorandum came about after some Democratic senators pressured the administration over the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, Axios said.

The executive decision came after Democratic senators, including Tim Kaine of Virginia and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, proposed an amendment that would have required the the president to report to Congress whether countries receiving military equipment acted in compliance with international law.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed concern that the amendment would split the chamber’s Democratic caucus, asking the White House to instead take executive action, the three officials told Axios.

Pushing for executive measures was also the intent of the senators. Van Hollen told Axios: “Myself and the co-sponsors of the amendment made it clear to Majority Leader Schumer that we are determined to have a vote if we don’t succeed in implementing it through executive action.”

On the day he issued the memorandum, Biden appeared to describe Israel’s military response as “over the top,” adding that he was seeking a “sustained pause” in the war.

“I’ve been pushing really hard, really hard, to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza. There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop,” he said.

According to the memorandum, Israel, as a country in “active armed conflict,” has 45 days to comply. Other countries have 180 days.

The secretary of state or secretary of defense will review the assurances. The U.S. has the option to cease providing defense materiel or services if it deems it necessary.

Van Hollen said he held talks with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and other White House officials to draft the memorandum, Axios reported.

“We did it to make sure we have an accountability structure and that U.S. security assistance aligns with both our values and our interests,” Van Hollen said.

Israel “anticipates being able to provide the relevant assurances,” a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said.

Some two months ago, the Biden administration also pressed Israel to provide answers regarding a series of incidents in which, it claims, Israel Defense Forces units operating in Judea and Samaria may have violated the so-called “Leahy Law,” a set of amendments that restrict military aid over human rights concerns.

The Leahy Law states that Pentagon-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 a gross violation of human rights.”

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