Will Obama Show Reagan’s Courage and Suspend Tank Transfers to Israel?

In the worst strike yet by Israel against a United Nations school where Palestinian civilians were seeking shelter from the carnage, up to 19 people were killed and 125 were wounded last night when Israeli tanks shelled the school in Jebalya. Citizens in Gaza have very limited options on where to go once Israel issues an ultimatum to evacuate an area. Reuters reports that more than 200,000 have sought refuge in UN schools and other UN buildings since the fighting broke out. Also yesterday, Israeli tanks shelled the only power plant in Gaza, forcing it to be shut down when a fuel tank was hit.

Israel, of course, claims that there was mortar fire from the vicinity of the UN school:

An Israeli military spokeswoman said militants had fired mortar bombs from the vicinity of the school and troops fired back in response. The incident was still being reviewed.

It is hard to see the shelling of the power plant, however, as anything other than collective punishment for all of Gaza. For all of Israel’s yammering about terror tunnels and the scary rockets that Hamas is firing toward Israel, numbers in a CNN article this morning drive home the asymmetry of the conflict. Gaza is home to 1.8 million residents while Israel has a population of 8 million. Israel’s armed forces have 176,000 active personnel. As for Hamas:

The U.S. State Department says there are “several thousand” Gaza-based Hamas militant operatives along with a “reported 9,000-person Hamas-led paramilitary group known as the ‘Executive Force.'”

Tellingly, CNN does not separate Palestinian civilians from Hamas militants when it first touches on casualty figures, stating only that “more than 1200 Palestinians have been killed”. The Reuters article linked above puts the number this morning at 1270. Only later in the CNN article do we learn that Israel estimates that it has killed “more than 300” Hamas militants. That means that Israel’s own estimate is that 76% of the Palestinians they have killed are civilians. For all of Israel’s claims about the “pin-point precision” of its attacks, that is a horrible track record.

Of course, Israel hides behind claims of Hamas using civilians as human shields to justify the high civilian death rate. The problem, though, is that it is impossible to see how Israel faces any sort of imminent danger from any Hamas militants who may be hiding among Palestinian refugees (or even in the terror tunnels!). While the death toll of Palestinian civilians is approaching a thousand in this conflict, a grand total of three Israeli civilians have died, along with 53 soldiers who have died once Israeli forces crossed into Gaza. The UN is taking as many precautions as they can to screen the refugees in their shelters, and they have found and disclosed rockets that operatives tried to hide in shelters three times now.

Given the horrific numbers of civilians killed and the clearly punitive nature of bombing the power plant, it is time to visit the regulations and policies that apply to US arms and arms funding that flows to Israel. Consider this policy pronouncement in Defense News in April of this year, where we learn that:

a State Department official said Washington’s classified Conventional Arms Transfer Policy has been updated to make clear that the US will not transfer arms, equipment or training to countries that commit genocide, crimes against humanity or violate international humanitarian law.

The law against collective punishment is clear and the ratio of civilians to militants killed, along with the repressive blockade and power plant bombing would seem to be slam dunks for proving collective punishment.

Further, none other than the war mongers’ best friend Ronald Reagan actually intervened (pdf) in arms transfers to Israel once when they over-stepped the bounds of humanity:

Questions raised regarding the use of U.S.-supplied military equipment by Israel in Lebanon in June and July 1982, led the Reagan Administration to determine on July 15, 1982, that Israel “may” have violated its July 23, 1952, Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States (TIAS 2675). Concerns centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied anti-personnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its military operations in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut. The pertinent segment of that 1952 agreement between Israel and the United States reads as follows:

The Government of Israel assures the United States Government that such equipment, materials, or services as may be acquired from the United States … are required for and will be used solely to maintain its internal security, its legitimate self-defense, or to permit it to participate in the defense of the area of which it is a part, or in United Nations collective security arrangements and measures, and that it will not undertake any act of aggression against any other state.

It should be noted that none of the critical terms such as “internal security,” “legitimate self-defense,” or “act of aggression” are defined within this 1952 U.S.-Israeli agreement. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on this issue in July and August 1982. On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. This prohibition was lifted by the Reagan Administration in November 1988

Note that Israeli tanks appear to have been involved in the shelling of both the school and the power plant. That would make tanks and their ammunition perfect candidates to replace the cluster bombs in a repeat of Reagan’s move in 1982. From the figures in this document (pdf, see this pdf for a guide to the categories), it appears that in 2013, the US provided over $620 million worth of assistance in the category of “Tanks and Military Vehicles” to Israel, just among the figures reported by the State Department rather than the Defense Department.

Of course, don’t look for Obama to have the courage to stem the flow of money and weapons to Israel any time soon. In the meantime, it will be up to outside groups to apply what little pressure they can.

Update: From the UN statement on the shelling of the school (the sixth one hit!):

Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.

We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries   including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site.  These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.

The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times,  to ensure its protection; the last being at  ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
17 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    Juan Cole chimes in:

    While one can argue about whether this mortar fire or or that aerial bombing was justified, the destruction of the power plant and therefore of civilian water-purification is certainly a war crime. Babies in particular are vulnerable to dirty water, and often take revenge on their parents for the inability to give them clean water by dying. Israel is, as Rashid Khalidi argues, collectively punishing the entire Palestinian population of Gaza to punish it for being insufficiently cowed and for refusing to accept being ethnically cleansed from what is now Israel.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    Pendulums (penduli?) do swing back, eventually. It has taken a long time for even the (lesser) issue of the West Bank settlements to start swinging public opinion against Israel’s policies. That movement will continue, and will be accelerated by the reporting on this latest massacre. We’re reaching the “last gasp” stage for the old ways; the Senate vote, for example, proves only that there are a bunch of cowards up for re-election; there’s no real feeling behind it for many of them. Were Rand Paul not running for President, for example, he would have been a “nay” vote; his record shows that his Jewish pandering has only been recent. So there is hope, but it will take some time, and unfortunately many will die along the way.

  3. orionATL says:

    “will obama show reagan’s courage?”

    1. our president has demonstrated in multiple situations over the last 6 years that he has neither moral courage nor political courage.

    2. with a congressional election 3 months away and rabid american zionists among the democratic party’s most important voters ? not a chance in hell.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Of course this is terrible, but all war is terrible, and this event is nothing the US hasn’t done, times ten. It’s just the numbers aren’t reported. The US prefers aerial bombing, including ‘carpet bombing’ and the use of cluster munitions. The US has had bombers in the air continuously during the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, dropping tons of ordnance. Vietnam, Korea, Germany and Japan before that.
    Israel’s goal is to pacify & control & secure (typical US terms also) all of Palestine, the ‘promised land,’ and that requires killing a bunch of people. In this, it has the nearly full support of the American people, whether we like it or not, and the US still shows some semblances of democracy especially in this case.
    Also the US doesn’t especially care about the UN, except in those cases where the US can cajole UN support for its nefarious deeds and then claim backing from the ‘world community.’
    So no, Obama won’t suspend tank transfers to Israel. He will send more tanks, probably.

  5. prostratedragon says:

    Something over there in the Twitterverse (determined non-tweeter here) reflects my exact thoughts on hearing the morning news: “Israel announces a ceasefire, then attacks people out shopping for food. If you can’t see by now, you never will.” Apparently the US government is nothing more than a money hose in this matter. That is also getting quite evident.

  6. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    What America is witnessing today is the moral bankruptcy of its political elites. We have the President kowtowing to the Israel Lobby and a Senate full of Israeli bootlickers (and that includes you, Senator Paul). Meanwhile, Israel is continuing to engage in war crimes inside the Gaza Strip. Is it just me or does this operation eerily remind us of another atrocity committed many decades ago: the Nazi assault on the Warsaw Ghetto in WWII?

    But this will be a pyrrhic victory by Israel, and unfortunately it will be America that will pay a godawful price. The BDS movement will accelerate, and the jihadists will take their revenge on America whenever the opportunity arises, joined by thousands of new recruits who saw the IDF in action on TV. But there is another group who might want to strengthen their personal security: the rulers in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, all of this lays bare an existential crisis in American democracy: the specter that America’s political elites (in both parties) have been bought and paid for by corrupt money in support of a foreign power.

    When the Obama presidency began, many Americans hoped that it would usher in a new era of hope for a better, more just world. Instead we have witnessed a continuation of the garrison state at home and endless foreign intrigues and military action abroad. This cynical manipulation of the electorate by Obama and his entourage is a tragedy for America because it exacerbates the hopelessness many Americans already feel about the political process and could spawn serious domestic unrest if someone in power doesn’t address it. Finally, this is a personal tragedy for Barack Obama. He could have joined Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King in standing up to power when it precipitates or tolerates atrocities. Instead, President Obama has been reduced to being a clever politician from Chicago.

    • wallace says:

      quote”Meanwhile, all of this lays bare an existential crisis in American democracy: the specter that America’s political elites (in both parties) have been bought and paid for by corrupt money in support of a foreign power. “unquote

      Indeed. What I want to know now, is ..what the hell does it take to make this miserable, cowardly, stupid, morally defunct motherfucking country of mine to wake the fuck up?

      oh..wait..Kim Kardashian’s new dress. right. My bad.

      I wish I could shove every single piece of shit Congress members face in a collective pool of Gaza childrens blood..until they fucking choke.


  7. Don Bacon says:

    Merely and repetitively blaming politicians who are in fact representing the US public doesn’t carry any water.– to repeat my above–
    **In this [Gaza situation], [Israel’s behavior] has the nearly full support of the American people, whether we like it or not, and the US still shows some semblances of democracy especially in this case.**

  8. GKJames says:

    Of course it’s collective punishment. Every Israeli operation always has been for the simple reason that Israel’s number one objective isn’t security but the narrative that Israel tells itself as well as the Palestinians. With respect to the latter, it is adamant about reinforcing the message that they have no choice but to submit to Israel’s grand design (which explicitly excludes the idea of an independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan). If the people can be made more miserable so that they’ll up and leaver, all the better as far as Israel is concerned. And it’s also precisely why Israel needs Hamas, a creation of Israel, by the way, who can be guaranteed to provide yet another rationale for eviscerating any chance of normal life for Palestinians. Neither law nor opprobrium stand a chance against this psychosis, which happens to be consistently and robustly enabled by every major power and, of course, by the US in particular.

  9. CTuttle says:

    $620 million worth of assistance in the category of “Tanks and Military Vehicles” to Israel

    Mahalo, Jim…! Those tanks would would be the M-113 APCs, since their Merkavas are organic, the other military vehicles would be the HMMVs…! 8-(

  10. Don Bacon says:

    Israel ran out of ammo, but not to worry. There are plans for just such an emergency.
    Stripes, Jul 30
    DOD releases arms to Israel, official says

    WASHINGTON — As conflict continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, the Department of Defense has released arms to Israel from a weapons stockpile maintained within the borders of the close U.S. ally, a defense official confirmed Wednesday.
    The ammunition sale from the weapons stockpile, established in the 1990s for use by both countries in case of emergency, took place within the last week, following three weeks of battle between the Israeli military and Hamas militants in Gaza.
    More than 1,300 people, the vast majority Palestinians, have been killed since Israel began launching airstrikes and ground incursions in response to continuous missile fire from Gaza.

      • Ouis says:

        IAF receives first batch of Small Diameter Bombs (SBU)

        Israel’s Air Force has received 10,000 GBU-39 smart bombs. With 22.7 kg. of explosives, the GBU-39, a low-cost and highly precise weapon, can penetrate like a normal 900-kg. bomb.

        The 250-lb. (113.6-kg.) bomb was developed by Boeing Company (Canada) as a low-cost weapon capable of high-precision and low-collateral damage strikes. Israel received approval from Congress in late 2008 to buy 1,000 units.

        Backgrounder: Boeing SDB Focused Lethality Munition [pdf]

        The SDB System, with its four-place carriage and four weapons, is designed to fit on current fighter/bomber external smart stations and in the internal bays of the F-22A, F-35, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, and B-1 and B-2 bombers.

    • Ouis says:

      The munitions were located inside Israel as part of a program managed by the US military and called War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel (WRSA-I), which stores munitions locally for US use that Israel can also access in emergency situations.

      Army Surplus of Mortars and Grenades good enough for Gaza before expiration date – fancy price for Israel’s Defense Forces – thank you Uncle Sam.

      Stockpiling of Defense Articles for Foreign Countries [pdf]


      (1) AUTHORITY.—Notwithstanding section 514 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2321h), the President is authorized to transfer to Israel, in return for concessions to be negotiated by the Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, any or all of the items described in paragraph (2).
      (2) ITEMS COVERED.—The items referred to in paragraph (1) are munitions, equipment, and material such as armor, artillery, automatic weapons ammunition, and missiles that—
      (A) are obsolete or surplus items;
      (B) are in the inventory of the Department of Defense;
      (C) are intended for use as reserve stocks for Israel; and
      (D) as of the date of the enactment of this Act, are located in a stockpile in Israel.

  11. Don Bacon says:

    Soldiers killed in Gaza were deployed in 50-year-old APC
    Senior IDF officers criticize use of aging M113 armored personnel carrier, built in 1960s, which was apparently hit by RPG rockets.
    Give ’em some more.

  12. CTuttle says:

    I must say that I’ve yet to see any mention of Cluster munitions in all the reporting to date, plenty of Willy Pete and flechette along with the standard munitions, but, no reports on the cluster bomblets and/or the use of the daisy cutter…! I guess they learned their lesson from the Lebanese clusterf*ck…!

    • greengiant says:

      Yes the IDF has learned, never use cluster munitions in areas in which you will send troops. Too much unexploded ordinance. Guess that suggests no area of Gaza is off limits.
      The violation of US law in the previous use of cluster munitions only begs the question of which executive order or signing statement or Dick Cheney 4th branch of government or what interpretation of executive privilege might have been the fig leaf or whether no one even cared about the violation of law.

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