The US continues to provide cover for Israel’s genocide in Gaza

Ramona Wadi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains set in his plans to invade Rafah, with or without US assistance. Responding to US President Joe Biden’s warning earlier this week that arms supplies will be limited if Israel invades Rafah, Netanyahu responded, “If we must, we shall fight with our fingernails.” It is quite likely that the fingernails will be spared, though, unlike countless Palestinian lives eliminated under Israel’s bombing.

In the early hours of this morning, the Times of Israel reported White House National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby stating, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that what we’ve seen here [in Rafah] in the last 24 hours connotes or indicates a broad, large-scale invasion or major ground operation.” The statement follows a public confirmation by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin that a munitions shipment of approximately 3,500 had been halted over concerns that the weapons could be used in Rafah. The weapons shipment halt had prompted Haim Saban, Israeli-American billionaire and donor to the Democratic party, to send an email to Biden’s aides opposing the decision. “Let’s not forget that there are more Jewish voters, who care about Israel, than Muslims voters that care about Hamas,” the informal email partly read. But again, genocide is not about the US elections, or caring about Israel or Hamas.

Two days ago, Axios summed up its predictions over the US State Department’s review of the use of weapons provided to Israel which, if found to have violated international law, can lead to suspension. According to three unnamed US officials, the report would refrain from “concluding it [Israel] has violated the terms for its use of U.S. weapons.” As it turns out, the report provided much in terms of shedding doubt on clarity, which means further veneer for Israel to proceed with its genocide in Gaza.

The report did find that US weapons were being used in violation of international law but the narrative taken by the US is not in accordance with international law. Since October 7 2023, the report states, “Throughout this period, the USG has engaged at all levels with the Government of Israel to understand Israel’s view of the applicable legal frameworks relevant to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.” That is not how international law works. Israel’s view normalises genocide and war crimes, to make international law inapplicable. Therefore, the so-called “imperatives”, among which the report lists “minimising civilian casualties”, already provides the necessary groundwork to dilute any measures the US can take in terms of weapons supply to Israel. And indeed, the language used in the report emphasises the usual trend of downplaying proof into likelihood.

For example, the report notes that “Israel has not shared complete information to verify whether US defence articles covered under NMS_20 were specifically used in actions that have been alleged as violations of IHL or IHRL in Gaza, or in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the period of the report.” It does state the use of US origin weapons but states, regarding their use, that they were “likely to have been involved in incidents that raise concerns about Israel’s IHL compliance.” Likely. Again, doubt is sown, and always in Israel’s favour.

The same tactic occurs throughout the report. The US State Department sources the UN, NGOs and human rights organisations to cite “credible reports of alleged human rights abuses by Israeli security forces”. Again – take note of the language. Credible and alleged within the same sentence only disputes credibility. And following lists of violations Israel committed against Palestinian civilians, the State Department report gives Israel the benefit of the doubt once again because, “with Hamas seeking to hide behind civilian populations and infrastructure and expose them to military action, as well as the lack of USG personnel on the ground in Gaza, it is difficult to assess or reach conclusive findings on individual incidents.”

“Given Israel’s significant reliance on U.S.-made defense articles, it is reasonable to assess that defense articles covered under NSM-20 have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its IHL obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm.” This would be one of the clearest admissions by the US in terms of its weapons being used in Israel’s genocide in Gaza. However, in the next paragraph, Israel’s security forces harmed civilians “potentially using U.S.-provided equipment”.

The report also attempts to discredit “numerous credible UN, NGO and media reports” detailing Israel’s targeting of civilian infrastructure. Indeed, specific instances are mentioned in the report, including those of Israeli airstrikes targeting humanitarian aid workers, market places and refugee camps, but then resorts to the Israeli narrative of Hamas using human shields. Additionally, the report casts doubt on the civilians killed by Israeli air strikes in Gaza, stating that “the reported death tolls do not distinguish” between Hamas and civilians killed.

“Israel has a sophisticated system for identifying where civilians are located in order to try to minimise civilian harm,” the US report states. Undoubtedly Israel has the technology to locate civilians, but genocide wipes out everyone. Therefore, the report saying that international organisations have reported “mitigation efforts as inconsistent” is a very mild way of stating that Israel’s precision targeting precisely targeted civilians. Israel dividing Gaza into over 300 sectors, for example, is also touted as a mitigation effort to avoid civilian casualties. But if that were true, how does the US account for the genocide and its final destination in Rafah?

If the report set out to determine Israel’s compliance, it would have used definite language instead of employing purposefully contradictory language. Bureaucracy is not a deterrent for Israel. It merely suits the purpose of illusory action, but on the ground in Gaza, Palestinians are still facing genocide.

The US is already downplaying Israel’s actions in Rafah so far – how much impact will a report written in a way to protect Israel from accountability have? Furthermore, the report implicates the US not only by providing the means for Israel’s genocide, but protecting genocidal actions as well. Diplomacy and genocide, it seems, make for durable compatibility.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.