Israeli Air Force F-15s

Israeli Air Force F-15I Ra'am warplanes fly in formation in this October 10, 2017 photo.

(Photo: Israel Defense Forces)

'Beyond Parody': Biden Pushing for $18 Billion Warplane Sale to Israel

"Does anyone wonder why Netanyahu ignores Biden's pleas for restraint in Gaza?" asked one critic.

Palestine advocates on Wednesday slammed the Biden administration as it pushes Congress to approve the sale of $18 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Israel, despite public pronouncements of anger over ongoing Israeli atrocities in Gaza and a federal ban on the U.S. arms transfers to human rights violators.

The New York Times reported that the U.S. State Department has informally asked two congressional committees to begin the legislative review process for the deal, which involves the sale of as many as 50 McDonnell Douglas F-15 fighters to Israel, as well as munitions, training, and other support.

"As Israel is bombing and starving Palestinian civilians, Biden still wants to sell it $18 billion of F-15 fighter jets."

The proposed deal—which would be one of the largest and most lucrative arms sales to Israel in years—comes amid Israel's ongoing genocide in Gaza, during which more than 115,000 Palestinians have been killed, maimed, or are missing and presumed dead.

The planned sale also comes amid growing frustration among Biden administration officials over what President Joe Biden called Israel's "indiscriminate bombing" of Gaza. On Tuesday, Biden said he was "outraged" and "heartbroken" by Israel's airstrike targeting a World Central Kitchen convoy that killed seven humanitarian aid workers, including one U.S. citizen. Biden acknowledged that the attack was "not a stand-alone incident" while asserting that Israel has "not done enough" to protect Palestinian civilians.

"Does anyone wonder why Netanyahu ignores Biden's pleas for restraint in Gaza? Netanyahu sees them as empty words because, as Israel is bombing and starving Palestinian civilians, Biden still wants to sell it $18 billion of F-15 fighter jets," former Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said Wednesday, referring to right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some congressional progressives have also come out against the proposed sale. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked: "The United States wants Israel to let in more humanitarian aid, stop bombing civilians, and not invade Rafah. Netanyahu has ignored all of it. Why are we still sending him taxpayer dollars and weapons and expecting a different outcome?"

William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, noted that the "signs of hope in the Biden administration's recent shift in rhetoric" and the U.S. abstention from the most recent United Nations Security Council cease-fire resolution have "been destroyed by the administration's recent actions," including the proposed F-15 sale.

"Although the planes might not be delivered for years, agreeing to provide them in the midst of Israel's war on Gaza sends a signal of support that runs contrary to the administration's claims to be pressing the Netanyahu government to avoid civilian casualties and clear the way for humanitarian aid shipments," he wrote.

Hartung continued:

The sad truth is that there have been zero consequences from Washington for Israel's crimes in Gaza. Regardless of the rhetoric, the weapons keep flowing and the killing continues. The Biden administration's argument that it is simply giving Israel the means to defend itself willfully ignores the fact that killing over 32,000 people and attempting to deny them food and other essential goods goes far beyond defense, to the point that the International Court of Justice has suggested that Israel's actions could "plausibly" be considered a campaign of genocide.

"Even worse," Hartung added, "the tragedy in Gaza has been compounded by Israel's attack on Iran's consulate in Syria, which has increased the chances of a wider Middle East war which could easily draw in U.S. personnel."

Hartung and others have also voiced alarm over the Biden administration's approval of the transfer of munitions including 2,000-pound bombs, which Israel has used extensively in Gaza with devastating results. In one of the deadliest bombings of the war, Israel dropped multiple 2,000-pound bombs on the Jabalia refugee camp on October 31, killing at least 126 civilians including 69 children.

Some of the worst Israeli atrocities perpetrated during the 180-day war have involved aerial attacks by missiles, drones, and warplanes. Robert Pape, a U.S. military historian and University of Chicago professor, said in December that Israel's bombardment of Gaza "sits comfortably in the top quartile of the most devastating bombing campaigns ever," and that by some measures, surpasses the Allied "terror bombing" of German cities during World War II.

An analysis published Tuesday by the World Bank and United Nations found that the Israeli onslaught on Gaza has caused approximately $18.5 billion in damage to essential infrastructure in the embattled strip, equivalent to nearly the entire gross domestic product of both Gaza and the occupied West Bank in 2022.

Human rights and Palestine advocates have called for an arms embargo on Israel. However, the Biden administration is seeking an emergency military aid package for Israel worth more than $14 billion and has repeatedly bypassed Congress to fast-track armed assistance to Israel—which already receives nearly $4 billion in U.S. military aid annually. Israel imports nearly 70% of its arms from the United States.

Since the passage of the Foreign Assitance Act of 1961, and later the Leahy Laws, the U.S. government has been statutorily prohibited from providing assistance to foreign security forces who commit gross human rights violations. However, this has not stopped Washington from supporting rights violators—including dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the perpetrators of genocides in Paraguay, Guatemala, Bangladesh, East Timor, Kurdistan, and Gaza—since these laws were enacted.

The Biden administration—which earlier this year reaffirmed the ban on arms transfers to human rights violators—says Israel is not violating international law in Gaza. During a contentious Tuesday press conference, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby was asked by Niall Stanage, the associate editor of The Hill, if "firing a missile at people delivering food and killing them" is "a violation of international humanitarian law."

Kirby replied: "The State Department has a process in place. And to date, as you and I are speaking, they have not found any incidents where the Israelis have violated international humanitarian law."

Last month, 25 humanitarian groups urged the Biden administration to comply with U.S. law by suspending arms sales to Israel.

"U.S. weapons, security assistance, and blanket political support have contributed to an unparalleled humanitarian crisis and possible war crimes in Gaza," the groups wrote in a letter to the president. "We demand that you urgently comply with U.S. law, end U.S. support for catastrophic human suffering in Gaza, and use your leverage to protect civilians and ensure the impartial provision of humanitarian assistance."

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