The Biden administration will require countries that receive weapons from the United States to provide the State Department with “credible and reliable” written assurances that they will use those weapons in accordance with the laws of war, according to a memorandum on the national security released Thursday.
The executive action applies globally to more than 100 countries currently receiving U.S. weapons and aid and adds a new requirement that an annual report be sent to Congress.
The move comes as the Biden administration faces pressure from top Democratic lawmakers to limit civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip as Israel wages its fourth month of war against Hamas. The United States provides billions of dollars in military assistance to Israel each year, which some progressives, such as independent Senator Bernie Sanders, say makes the United States complicit in civilian deaths.
The Israeli military has not revealed the number of civilians it estimates it has killed, but Hamas officials in Gaza say. However, Hamas statistics do not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. The Israeli army claims to have killed 9,000 fighters, but has not released an estimate of the number of civilian casualties. CBS News producer Marwan alGhoul reported first-hand accounts of hospitals full of women and children injured in the fighting.
A senior administration official told CBS News that the new memorandum is not being released because the White House believes a country is currently violating these standards.
“This is an opportunity to be transparent with the American public [about] what standards we require countries to adhere to and how we go about getting assurance that they will be met,” the official said.
The memo demands written commitments from more than 100 countries to receive U.S. weapons within 180 days. Those in active conflict, including Israel and, must respond within 45 days. If the president does not receive these assurances, the United States can withhold aid.
It also requires the secretaries of State and Defense to provide a report to Congress on weapons or assistance provided to other countries within the next 90 days. The first report will include any assistance provided since January 1, 2023.
An administration spokesperson told CBS News that the memo stemmed in part from conversations with members of Congress who raised questions about existing standards and how those standards are enforced. Nineteen Democratic senators pushed for an amendment to the national security supplement bill currently being negotiated in Congress to require that the use of additional U.S. aid be consistent with U.S. international law.
“American security assistance must always be used consistent with our nation’s interests and values, including respect for international humanitarian law,” Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in a statement Thursday. “But until now it was based on sentiment and not substance.” Van Hollen is among the group of lawmakers pressing the White House for more accountability on arms and aid sent to Israel.
The existing legislation, known as the Leahy Act, prevents the United States from providing weapons or funds for military assistance to groups when there is credible information that those groups have violated human rights. man. However, former Sen. Pat Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said previous administrations backed away from applying the law to the Israel Defense Forces.
“What do we do now to enforce the Leahy law? I don’t know,” Leahy told the Vermont news site News & Citizen in November. “I know previous administrations have been too preoccupied to do this. This should apply to the Israel Defense Forces, unless the administration, as many have done, has waived it.”
Lawmakers say Thursday’s memorandum will strengthen enforcement mechanisms.
“This will be the first time we will require recipients of U.S. military assistance to provide written assurances and promises that they will respect international humanitarian law,” Van Hollen said.
The Biden administration has strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas after the militant group killed 1,200 Israelis and took about 240 people hostage in a bloody operation..
However, as the humanitarian conditions of the conflict have deteriorated, Biden administration officials have pressed the Israeli government to limit the effect of its military operations on Gaza’s civilian population.
Speaking from Tel Aviv on Wednesday at the end of his fifth multi-stop operation in the Middle East, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a public appeal for greater protection of the people of Gaza.
“The Israelis were dehumanized in the most horrific way on October 7. The hostages have been dehumanized every day since,” Blinken said. “But that cannot be a license to dehumanize others.”
On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had ordered his army to submit plans for awhere more than a million Palestinian civilians have found refuge, in anticipation of an expected offensive aimed at destroying Hamas battalions there.
White House and State Department officials have warned that an attack on Rafah without a plan to protect civilians sheltering there would be a “disaster.” Blinken delivered a similar message directly to Netanyahu during their meeting in Jerusalem this week.
At a press conference Thursday, President Bidento Israel’s actions in Gaza as “exaggerated”.
Last month, Van Hollen, returning from a visit to Rafah,Margaret Brennan, moderator of “Face the Nation,” said the president and secretary of state “were right to insist on two things: a reduction in unacceptable levels of civilian casualties and greater cooperation in providing humanitarian aid.
“We haven’t seen that,” he said.
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from www.cbsnews.com