Biden administration says Israel isn’t violating US weapons terms

The Biden administration said Friday that it was “reasonable to assess” that Israel has violated international law in Gaza using weapons provided by the United States, but that it hasn’t violated terms of U.S. weapons agreements.

In a report to Congress, the State Department said it hasn’t verified specific instances that would justify withholding military aid.

The report said that Israel has “the knowledge, experience, and tools to implement best practices for mitigating civilian harm in its military operations,” but noted that results in the field, “including high levels of civilian casualties, raise substantial questions” about whether the Israel Defense Forces are “using them effectively in all cases.”

The report also pointed to limitations as far as U.S. access to information from Israel. While Israel provided some information “on request” about specific incidents related to targeting decisions and battled damage assessments, more details are needed, the report said.

“Although we have gained insight into Israel’s procedures and rules, we do not have complete information on how these processes are implemented,” the report said. “Israel has not shared complete information to verify” whether certain weapons provided by the U.S. had been used in incidents that allegedly violated international humanitarian law.

The report said that Israel had identified several domestic accountability mechanisms focused on investigating and addressing any potential law violations, and that the country had confirmed opening “a number of criminal investigations” into possible violations of Israeli law or international humanitarian law but the State Department was unaware of any prosecutions.

The report did not find that the Israeli government is blocking the transport or delivery of humanitarian assistance.

“While the U.S. has had deep concerns during the period since October 7 about action and inaction by Israel that contributed significantly to a lack of sustained and predictable delivery of needed assistance at scale, and the overall level reaching Palestinian civilians — while improved — remains insufficient, we do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance” under the Foreign Assistance Act, the report said.

The State Department will continue to monitor and respond to challenges regarding the delivery of aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

“If not for sustained engagement by the United States with the Israeli government at the highest levels, the humanitarian crisis that has persisted for the past several months would have been even more dire,” the report said.

The U.S. believes the assurances given by Israel are reliable and credible, a senior State Department official told NBC News on Friday, but said the administration’s assessment of its compliance with international humanitarian law is ongoing.

President Joe Biden in February issued a national security memorandum that required the secretary of state to obtain certain written assurances from foreign governments receiving U.S. weapons, and for the secretaries of state and defense to provide periodic congressional reports on the matter.

After the report’s release, the Senate Republican Conference began circulating an internal messaging document to Senate GOP offices. The document, obtained by NBC News, blasts the State Department’s findings as “yet another unnecessary report meant to appease Democrats anti-Semitic base.”

Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Biden administration “has given Israel a politically damaging assessment” and that the president aimed to “placate voters on the far left at the expense of a close ally in the midst of its justified war with Hamas terrorists.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, separately said the report “serves no purpose other than to provide political cover to the president with his base.”

Biden has also faced criticism from some Democrats over his handling of weapons transfers related to the Israel-Gaza war.

Senior administration officials previously told NBC News that the U.S. halted a large shipment of offensive weapons to Israel last week over fears that they would be used to invade Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where more than 1 million people are sheltering. Biden later said on CNN that the U.S. would not provide Israel with certain weapons and artillery shells if it launches a ground offensive in Rafah.