An American government watchdog is investigating the sale of US-made arms to Israel amid growing concern over Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian individuals and its use of heavy weaponry.
In the past four years, America has provided Israel with about $5.2bn (£3.6bn) of arms, financed largely by annual grants of military aid by Congress. Such weapons include F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft and attack helicopters. The Arms Export Control Act stipulates that such weapons can only be used for "legitimate self-defense".
There is growing unease in Washington over the of what Israel calls "targeted killings" the assassination, so far, of more than 60 people suspected of involvement in bombings and other attacks.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) the investigative arm of Congress is doing an audit of the US sale of arms to countries in the Middle East over the past 10 years. Included in the audit will be an examination of export controls attached to each sale.
While the GAO will not itself make a determination of whether such controls have been violated by recent events, the report will be used by the Bush administration, which itself is reviewing whether Israel's behavior goes beyond self defense."Obviously during peace time when weapons are just being used on exercises the monitoring is less hard to do," a State Department spokesman said on Wednesday. "During a time of conflict, when the weapons are deployed, there is more monitoring. I think that at some point a decision is going to have to be taken on [whether there has been a violation]."
Israel's armed forces are monitored by officials in the State Department and the American embassy in Jerusalem. America has decided that the activities do not violate the arms sale agreement. But this week, after Israel's assassination of the senior Palestinian leader Abu Ali Mustafa, using American-made Apache helicopter gunships, Washington said such tactics could only "inflame" the situation.
American has reportedly warned Israel that a report on its non-defensive tactics may have to be sent to Congress as a precursor to some sort of freeze on sales. A State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, refused to detail America's complaints but said: "We have made clear our opposition to targeted killings. It's not a question of the weapons so much as it is a question of the event. Obviously, they are aware and we are aware of the restrictions on the use of American weaponry."
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd