Israel exempt from new US firearms export restrictions

Firearms exports often fall into the wrong hands and directly undermine US national security, Commerce Secretary says

The final interim rule will apply to Pakistan and 35 other countries, including many that were part of the former Soviet Union. EPA
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The US on Friday exempted Israel from a new set of firearms export controls designed to reduce the risk of the weapons being used to add to regional instability, human rights abuses and drug trafficking.

“Too often, firearms exports fall into the wrong hands and end up being used in ways that directly undermine US national security and foreign policy interests,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.

On October 27, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security issued a 90-day “pause” on the issuing of new export licences for some firearms to “assess and mitigate risk of firearms being diverted to entities or activities that promote regional instability, violate human rights, or fuel criminal activities”.

Under the new rule, the department will apply “presumption of denial” to countries deemed by the State Department to be “high risk”.

The final interim rule, which takes effect on May 30, will apply to Pakistan and 35 other countries, including many that were part of the former Soviet Union.

The State Department said the countries pose a substantial risk that could lead to the misuse or diversion of firearms exports that could harm national security and foreign policy.

“These changes will help to enhance us national security and to promote US foreign policy interests, including by advancing human rights and fostering greater regional stability,” the Commerce Department said.

Israel, Ukraine and other US allies have been excluded from the list.

The department said in October it would continue to review licence applications for exports to Israel, Ukraine and other exempted countries.

This final interim rule comes months after a group of UN experts called on the US and other countries to halt the transfer of weapons to Israel that could be used in Gaza, saying it “is likely to violate international humanitarian law”.

The Human Rights Council has also recently backed a call to halt the sale, transfer and diversion of firearms and other military equipment to Israel.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in March that Washington has not found Israel to be in breach of humanitarian law.

The department will report to Congress in May if Israel's assurances that is has not violated international law are credible.

Canada, Spain, Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy have all suspended the shipment of weapons and other military equipment to Israel since October 7.

Updated: April 26, 2024, 6:17 PM