Arms Export Control Act: Israeli Breaches and U.S. Indulgence Result in Palestinian and Lebanese Civilian Casualties

Israel’s violations of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) are increasingly countenanced by conservative and liberal officials alike in Washington, DC. Twenty-six years ago, Washington conservatives were at least willing to apply mild penalties for Israel’s misdeeds with American weaponry in Lebanon. Today, liberals are largely silent and conservatives indulgent of Israel’s misapplication of American firepower in Lebanon in 2006 and throughout the past decade in the Gaza Strip with flechettes, F-16s and Caterpillar bulldozers. The damage to American integrity is significant and noted widely by people in the region.

The AECA specifies a certain comportment of nations receiving American weaponry. Israel’s misuse of American cluster munitions in Lebanon led President Ronald Reagan to suspend shipment of these weapons for six years. Considerable documentation from credible human rights organizations indicates that Israel abused the law and human rights standards in using the same weapons against Lebanese civilians in 2006. Nevertheless, no penalties were brought to bear. When queried on the AECA, Congressional staffers showed real reticence in even broaching the subject of possible Israeli misconduct. A State Department report regarding a possible Israeli violation of the AECA during its Lebanon campaign was sent to the offices of Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, and to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. It was buried. Congress did not pursue the report because most members of Congress had months earlier ignored the mounting evidence of Lebanese civilian casualties in voting in support of Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon. No amount of evidence in the intervening months altered their staunch support for Israel’s aggressive military posture.

Washington has also exhibited complacency regarding Israeli use of flechettes, F-16s and Caterpillar bulldozers against the civilian population of the densely populated Gaza Strip. Reckless Israeli use of American-made flechettes brought little international outcry, in part because of Gaza’s isolation. Rare and intermittent American coverage may, however, have played a small part in limiting the frequency of Israeli employment of flechettes.

Israel’s "targeted assassinations" frequently resulted in Palestinian civilian casualties. In 2003, Israeli pilots killed more civilian bystanders than actual targets. The previous year, an Israeli pilot in an American-made F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb on a home in Gaza. Thirteen civilians, including eight children, were slain in the Israeli effort to kill one man (and his bodyguard). The concern from Washington was unusually high, but no official action resulted. A report in US News & World Report suggests that Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton may have killed a memo to Secretary of State Colin Powell indicating that a violation of the AECA may have occurred with the attack. The author’s Freedom of Information Act request inquiring about this memo went unanswered for 18 months at the time of publication.

Perhaps most egregiously, the U.S. Congress failed to stand up for American citizen Rachel Corrie and her family after Corrie was crushed to death in the Gaza Strip by a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer. The timidity of American officials regarding Corrie’s death and the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese undercuts American standing in the world and creates a dramatic rift between American law and its implementation. Both Democrats and Republicans have failed to apply the law where Israel is concerned. Consequently, Israeli officials take increasing liberties in using American firepower on the field of battle-and in civilian neighborhoods.


Click here to view or print this online publication :

"Arms Export Control Act: Israeli Breaches and U.S. Indulgence Result in Palestinian and Lebanese Civilian Casualties" (PDF)
by Michael F. Brown

The Palestine Center is an educational program of The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development

The views expressed in this online publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund or its educational program, The Palestine Center.