Gaza War Puts New Pressures on U.S. Arms Transfer Policies

In February of last year, President Biden changed the U.S. standard for cutting off weapons deliveries to foreign militaries that harm civilians during wartime.

Under the new arms transfer policy, Mr. Biden said countries that were “more likely than not” to violate international law or human rights with American weapons should not receive them. Previously, U.S. officials were required to show “actual knowledge” of such violations, a higher bar to clear.

A few months later, in August, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken issued a directive instructing State Department officials overseas to investigate incidents of civilian harm by foreign militaries using American weapons and recommend responses that could include halting arms deliveries.

Hamas attacked Israel two months later, triggering the war in Gaza and plunging Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken into an intense global debate about how Israel is using U.S. arms. To Mr. Biden’s critics, his steadfast refusal to limit arms deliveries to Israel runs counter to those initiatives and badly undermines his goal of positioning the United States as a protector of civilians in wartime.

His policies face new tests this week. Israel is threatening a full invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza, against Mr. Biden’s firm opposition. And the Biden administration plans to deliver a report to Congress this week assessing whether it believes Israel’s assurances that it has used American weapons in accordance with U.S. and international law.

If the report finds that Israel has violated the law, Mr. Biden could restrict arms deliveries. Eighty-eight House Democrats wrote to Mr. Biden last week questioning the credibility of Israel’s assurances and urging him “to take all conceivable steps to prevent further humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.”

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