May 10, 2024 - World

Blinken report says it's impossible to verify Israel broke weapons law in Gaza

Soldier directs Israeli tanks near a border crossing to the southern Gaza strip

A soldier directs Israeli tanks near a border crossing to the southern Gaza strip on May 5, 2024. Photo: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken says in a report to Congress Friday it is not possible to verify whether Israel has used U.S.-made weapons in Gaza in a manner that violates international law.

Why it matters: Blinken says in the report, which Axios obtained an unclassified copy of, that the U.S. received "credible and reliable" assurances from Israel that allow the U.S. to continue providing military assistance.

  • Yes, but: Blinken also says given Israel's significant reliance on U.S.-made weapons, "it is reasonable to assess" that they have been used by Israeli security forces since Oct. 7 "in instances inconsistent with its international law obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm."
  • Local health authorities reported nearly 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, and an April report from Amnesty International found Israel used U.S. weapons against Palestinian civilians in the enclave.

The big picture: Blinken's report, required under a new national security memorandum President Biden issued in February, has sparked the most contentious internal debate in the State Department since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, U.S. officials said.

  • The State Department reviewed the use of weapons by Israel and six other countries engaged in different armed conflicts.
  • If a country is determined to have violated international humanitarian law or impeded the delivery of U.S.-supported humanitarian aid, it could lead to suspension of U.S. military aid.

What's inside: The report lists incidents that raise concerns about Israel's use of U.S.-made weapons in violation of international law. It also details efforts Israel made to operate in alignment with international law.

  • Israel has shared some information on specific incidents in which there were concerns international law was violated, per the report. That includes details of its targeting choices and battle damage assessments.
  • "Although we have gained insight into Israel's procedures and rules, we do not have complete information on how these processes are implemented," Blinken said in the report.
  • "Israel has not shared complete information to verify whether U.S. defense articles were specifically used in actions that have been alleged as violations of international law in Gaza."

Zoom in: Blinken also says that in response to U.S. requests, Israel shared some information about incidents involving civilian harm that the State Department is reviewing to determine whether U.S. munitions were used.

  • He says certain Israeli-operated systems such as attack aircraft originated in the U.S. "and are likely to have been involved in incidents that raise concerns about Israel's international law compliance."
  • Blinken says in the report, given the nature of the conflict in Gaza and the lack of U.S. government personnel on the ground, it is "difficult to assess or reach conclusive findings on individual incidents."

Israel opened several internal investigations over incidents in Gaza, per the report.

  • "It is also important to emphasize that a country's overall commitment to international law is not necessarily disproven by individual international law violations, so long as that country is taking appropriate steps to investigate and where appropriate determine accountability for violations," Blinken says in the report.

Context: The U.S. Intelligence Community assesses that the Israeli military has "inflicted harm on civilians in military or security operations, potentially using U.S.-provided equipment," Blinken says in the report.

  • On the other hand, Blinken says the U.S. intelligence community has no direct indication of Israel intentionally targeting civilians.
  • "The intelligence community assesses that Israel could do more to avoid civilian harm," he says.
  • Blinken added that although Israel has the tools to mitigate civilian harm, on-the-ground results "raise substantial questions" as to whether Israel Defense Forces is effectively using those tools.

State of play: Blinken says in the initial months of the war "Israel did not fully cooperate with U.S. government efforts to maximize humanitarian assistance flow to and distribution within Gaza."

  • He says, Israel "has significantly increased humanitarian access and aid flow into Gaza," in recent weeks and "we do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance."

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