No reason to change requirements on US military aid to Israel, says top senator

Some Democrats are working to enhance oversight on military aid as Israel's siege of Gaza rages on

Israeli soldiers work on armoured military vehicles along the border with the Gaza Strip. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

The chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee has said it is unnecessary for Washington to issue further conditions on aid to Israel, as members of his Democratic Party rally to better define requirements for the war in Gaza.

“Any military systems we give, weapons, there are general requirements, and we have no reason to change that policy,” Senator Ben Cardin said at a briefing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

In response to a question from The National, he added: “I don't believe it's necessary to condition aid further than was already conditioned, as far as US military assistance is concerned.”

The US administration of President Joe Biden has faced mounting pressure over its arms flow to Israel, a historic Washington ally that has received hundreds of billions of dollars in American aid without conditions.

A group of Democratic senators are working on an amendment “to require that the weapons received by any country under the proposed national security supplemental are used in accordance with US law, international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict”.

“US taxpayer dollars have never come in the form of a blank cheque,” the group's leader, Senator Chris Van Hollen, said in a statement.

"It’s critical that we hold all nations who receive our assistance to the same standards."

But Mr Cardin seemed to be sceptical of the amendment, voicing concern about how it would affect “all decisions that we've made in Ukraine, as well as Israel, if we're changing the conditions".

The Washington Post reported this week that Israel had used US-supplied white phosphorus in its border conflict with Lebanon, prompting human rights groups to call for an investigation into the matter as a possible war crime.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the Biden administration is “certainly concerned about that” and will be “asking questions to try to learn a little bit more”.

And on Thursday, news outlets reported that more than half of the munitions used in Gaza by the Israeli military have been unguided "dumb bombs".

The Israeli army has fired more than 29,000 air-to-ground munitions into the Palestinian enclave since October 7, and only 55 to 60 per cent of them have been precision-guided, The Washington Post reported, quoting an assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The US is the top donor to Israel and “almost all US bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance”, a March 2023 congressional report said.

The report found that “the United States has provided Israel $158 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defence funding”.

Mr Cardin declined to comment on Mr Biden's campaign fundraising event this week, during which the US President told donors that Israel is “bombing indiscriminately” in Gaza and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government “has to change”.

“I have not talked personally with President Biden since he made those comments, but I've had conversations with President Biden and I think we share a common concern," Mr Cardin said.

"But I'm not ready to make that type of evaluations about indiscriminate bombing."

He recently returned from a visit to the Middle East, during which he and a bipartisan group of senators attended Cop28.

He said that while in the UAE, he met several regional leaders.

Mr Cardin said he received a “consistent” message from Washington's Arab partners that a viable path towards a two-state solution in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is “a precondition of their willingness to get invested”.

Arab leaders are “willing to get engaged in regard to financial packages that can come together, that can rebuild Gaza”, he said.

“But it must be with a genuine path forward in regard to two states.”

Updated: December 14, 2023, 10:01 PM