Sharon Zhang – Former Official: Biden State Dept. Bending US Law to Send Israel Weapons

State officials have carved out an entirely unique vetting system for Israel in US foreign assistance law.

Sharon Zhang is a news writer at Truthout covering politics, climate and labor.

Cross-posted from Scheerpost

Photo: US Embassy Jerusalem/Creative Commons

The Biden administration is in “non-compliance” with a U.S. law regarding foreign military assistance in allowing Israeli forces to dodge scrutiny over their brutality against Palestinians and otherwise, according to a new, scathing analysis by a former top State Department official.

A report written for Just Security by Charles Blaha, who retired from his position as the director of the State Department’s Office of Security and Human Rights last year after seven years in the role, says that top State officials have purposefully carved out an entirely unique vetting system for Israel’s compliance with human rights guidelines and eligibility to receive U.S. arms under the Leahy Law.

This system appears to be specifically designed to allow Israeli military units to commit gross human rights violations with little scrutiny from the U.S., and to allow U.S. officials to continue sending Israel weapons unconditionally. If Israeli units were found to be in violation of the Leahy Law, it would require the State Department to prohibit said units from receiving U.S. arms.

Blaha explains that the process undertaken by the Israel Leahy Vetting Forum (ILVF), which first met in 2020, to vet incidents by Israeli forces is extremely slow compared to the process for other countries. It requires in-person meetings involving higher-level officials and for allegations against units to undergo a request for information about the unit to the Israeli government.

“Department officials insist that Israeli units are subject to the same vetting standards as units from any other country. Maybe in theory. But in practice, that’s simply not true,” Blaha wrote. “[I]n actual ILVF practice, the standard for ineligibility is almost impossibly high. Information that for any other country would without question result in ineligibility is insufficient for Israeli security force units.”

Further, even if a determination is made by lower-level officials about a violation by an Israeli unit, the final decision about a unit’s eligibility lies with the Deputy Secretary of State. “This is true for no other country in the world,” wrote Blaha, who oversaw an office that is key in making determinations under the Leahy Law.

Typically, workers in the State Department are trusted to make determinations on units, with few exceptions that rise to the level of an office director for a final decision; when Blaha was a director, he said, his office oversaw 200,000 cases yearly and he never saw one elevate above his level.

Perhaps as a result of this system, the Israel Leahy Vetting Forum has not found a single Israeli unit to be ineligible for receiving U.S. assistance in its four years of existence — even though experts have long said that there is credible evidence for the U.S. to limit weapons transfers to Israel.

The exception carved out for Israel is evident in recent determinations made by the Biden administration.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had determined that there were four Israeli units who had committed human rights violations, including one involved in an incident in which an Israeli soldier shot and killed a Palestinian man on the side of the road in the West Bank, only receiving three months of community service as a result. Though these units committed violations, the State Department determined that they were still eligible for U.S. assistance and required no further remediation.

In a fifth case, Blinken determined that a unit involved in killing a 78-year-old Palestinian American manOmar Assad, would still be eligible for assistance.

This is despite the fact that Assad was killed in a brutal way — stopped by Israeli forces at a checkpoint, dragged out of his car, bound, blindfolded, and then left on the ground overnight. He died after having a heart attack; the soldiers abandoned him to avoid scrutiny after discovering he was dead.

As Blaha points out, Blinken said that the department would work with the Israeli government “on identifying a path to effective remediation” for the unit responsible for Assad’s death — something made up by Blinken to give the unit a pass.

“This language appears nowhere in the Leahy law; it appears invented to avoid finding this Israeli unit ineligible,” Blaha said. “For any other country, a unit found to have committed a violation is immediately ineligible until remediation is complete.”

“The bottom line on Secretary Blinken’s actions is this: there are no ineligible Israeli units, and therefore no list to Israel,” Blaha continued, referring to a list of ineligible Israeli units that the State Department is supposed to report to Congress under the Leahy Law. “Even a unit responsible for the death of an American is eligible for assistance. As long as this remains the status quo, the department remains in non-compliance with the law.”

Blaha’s report is a show of how far the Biden administration is willing to go to continue sending weapons to Israel as it continues its extermination campaign in Gaza and severe repression of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The administration has reportedly spent the last months covertly pressuring members of Congress to approve sending yet more military assistance to Israel.

Two Democrats in Congress, Rep. Gregory Meeks (New York) and Sen. Ben Cardin (Maryland) recently signed off on advancing a sale of F-15s and munitions, including JDAMs, to Israel after pressure from the administration, The Washington Post reported on Monday. Meeks and Cardin, the top Democrats of their chambers’ respective foreign relations committees, had held up the sale for months, both citing human rights concerns.

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