Sameh Habeeb, a young, independent, Palestinian journalist, lived in a modest house in the middle of Gaza City in December 2008. From his bedroom window, Habeeb reported to international news outlets exactly what he saw night after night during Israel’s lethal 22-day assault. On one occasion, Habeeb told Truthout, “the Apache helicopter gunship hovered less than 200 meters away from us. The children, my brothers and sisters, were hiding in the corners of the house, taking shelter. It was horrendous. The sky was dark; there was nothing but the sound and the red lights of the Apache, the screams of the children, and the sound of the bombings close by. The house shook like an earthquake every time there was a bombing. I thought I was going to be the next victim. We smelled the gun powder everywhere.”
Approximately 1,400 Palestinians were killed – including more than 300 children – and over 5,000 people were wounded in the 2008-2009 Israeli attacks, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, using advanced American-made weaponry. Now, a year later, Israel and the United States have agreed to a weapons stockpiling deal that will store $800 million worth of American-made arms and military equipment on Israeli soil.
According to a January 11 report in the weekly paper Defense News, the Obama administration previously mapped out a plan that would place $400 million worth of military arsenal in Israel, but that project was exactly doubled after a meeting in December between the Israeli military’s technology and logistics branch, and Rear Adm. Andy Brown, logistics director of the US Army European Command.
Included in this agreement is the caveat that Israel, after approval from the US government, would be able to access the American weapon and ammunition stockpile in case of a military “emergency.” The terms and definition of such an “emergency,” including against whom the weaponry could be used, remain unclear.
Barbara Opall-Rome reported, “[w]artime emergencies warranting Israeli use of such weaponry typically require Israel to reimburse Washington under Foreign Military Sales procedures,” but that, conveniently for Israel, “[r]eimbursement costs are funded through annual U.S. military grant aid to Israel.”
During the election campaign and over this last year in office, the Obama administration has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to what it calls “Israel’s security.”
An anonymous US defense official stated that Washington believes that “[American] economics and inflation were taking their toll on the Israel-based prepositioning,” thereby limiting – in relative terms – the procurement of weapons caches by the Israeli government, up until this point.
Missiles, armored vehicles, aerial ammunition and artillery ordnance have already been stockpiled in Israel since the US Congress began expanding their “forward basing” program in 1990. South Korea remains a US ally state enjoying a similar agreement with the US government. Opall-Rome wrote that American stockpile value in Israel began with “a starting ceiling of $100 million that quickly grew to $300 million following the 1991 war in Iraq … Under the new agreement, Israel not only gains access to more US stockpiles, but enjoys greater latitude in the categories and specific types of weaponry it can request for in-country storage.”
Raytheon, a weapons manufacturer headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts, is a prime contractor for US-administered arms deals with Israel. Among Raytheon’s arsenal of unconventional weapons is the 2.2-ton GBU 28 “bunker-buster,” “mini-nuke” bomb that was used against Iraq in 1991, and swiftly dispatched to Israel during the height of the 2006 attacks against Lebanon. The weapon can blast through 100 feet of earth and 20 feet of solid concrete. Raytheon’s spokesperson refused to answer Truthout’s questions regarding its expanding relationship with Israel. His response to a query about Raytheon’s possible contribution of arsenal to this $800 million stockpiling agreement was a curt “no comment,” and he told Truthout to “ask the US government” about further details.
Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich told Truthout that there is no oversight process toward which specific weapons will be part of stockpiling deals with Israel. “There is no monitoring,” he said. He noted that these weapons stockpiling agreements send a worrisome message to the people in the region. “What’s troubling is the pullback from serious diplomatic initiatives … and the reliance on weapons to solve what are really diplomatic issues. There’s no doubt that there is some strategic consideration at work. And there is the fact that several US administrations now have failed to enforce the Arms Export Control Act. The policies are not consonant with peace,” he continued. “They’re consonant with war. “
In the December 2009 Congressional Research Report to Congress, prepared for US representatives preceding their vote in the House to approve funding for such programs, it is pointed out that Israel was designated in 1998 as a “major non-NATO ally,” which “qualifies” the state to receive excess defense articles under Section 516 of the Foreign Assistance Act and Section 23(a) of the Arms Export Control Act.
Frida Berrigan of the US Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute in New York noted that the US State Department originally raised questions about Israel’s use of cluster bomb munitions during the 2006 Lebanon assault. Berrigan pointed out that the State Department said it was concerned about the amount of bomblets that were dropped. “But after a year of its own investigation,” Berrigan told Truthout, “the results were officially ‘inconclusive.’ A report was forwarded to the US Congress, and that’s where it ended. If Israel uses these [US-made] weapons, it is defined under ‘defense’ as far as Congress is concerned. Because under the Arms Export Controls Act, there are no set terms of activities, no definition of what ‘defense’ really means.”
Berrigan said that, although Congress routinely questions other weapons packages to allied countries, military aid to Israel is rarely, if ever, challenged. “There is a fast-track mechanism [for Israel] in place,” she added.
This move to double American weaponry and military equipment stockpiles on Israeli soil comes on the heels of Obama’s recent signing of a $30 billion, ten-year agreement for an expanded military aid package to the Israeli government. The first installment of the aid package, $2.775 billion, was signed over in December by President Obama, and was earmarked completely for Israel’s military budget instead of the prior allocation to both civilian and military infrastructure. This massive military package is over and above the annual $3.1 billion in loan guarantees to Israel that the Obama administration plans to continue.
As a part of the ten-year agreement, Israel is required to contract 75 percent of the package toward the purchase of American-made military equipment and ammunition, intended to further subsidize US weapons manufacturers. This arrangement was conceived by the Bush administration and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and was designed, Berrigan explained, to “lock in” the US-Israeli military relationship, tying the hands of the forthcoming US administration. “This benefits only the American weapons manufacturers,” she said, “and it sets the Obama administration up with a solid framework which Israel sought out and insisted on ahead of time. Once again, the United States was eager to comply.”
Meanwhile, as US-led wars in the region proliferate, this expansion of weapons stockpiles in Israel will surely be viewed as a growing threat to neighboring countries. “If we’re forward-basing [for the wars in] Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan,” former high-level CIA analyst Ray McGovern told Truthout, “the Iranians, the Russians and the Chinese will be worried. With this policy, we’re alienating so many people.”
Berrigan said that, within this context, it is important to question the strategic interest that the United States has in maintaining a close military partnership with Israel. “The relationship with Israel is not helping us win the hearts and minds of people in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “People don’t believe our rhetoric. When President Obama talks about global nuclear disarmament, everyone in the Arab-Muslim world knows that Israel has nuclear weapons, and that the US has allowed Israel to have them. The Obama administration is cutting every budget but the military’s, and continuing to give billions to Israel and Egypt. That’s money that could be much better spent in Haiti, or in any neighborhood in this country. It could build real international institutions that prioritize serving the needs of the world. Even though the American public is not paying attention, the world is.”
This stockpiling agreement follows claims by Israeli military officials that Israel’s own weapons cache is nearing “dangerously low” levels – especially, they say, after the 2006 offensive against Lebanon. Reports show that, in the last 72 hours of the summer bombing campaign there, when a cease-fire was clearly imminent, Israeli Air Force pilots dropped a reported one million American-made cluster bombs over the Southern region, which continue to explode and injure Lebanese civilians in agricultural and rural village areas to this day. More recently, during the attacks on Gaza, Palestinians were subjected to wide-spread destruction of thousands of homes, apartment buildings, offices, hospitals and schools by relentless aerial bombing campaigns, utilizing conventional and unconventional weaponry from the very same distributors whose wares will be stored in Israel. Israel’s wanton use of white phosphorus during the attacks has been widely condemned by international human rights groups, as well as the use of advanced anti-personnel weaponry such as Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) bombs.
Speaking on Flashpoints Radio in June 2009, Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian physician who treated patients hit by suspected DIME weaponry in Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital during the Israeli attacks, said he witnessed the effects of this unconventional and highly-lethal technology. “We saw people who were virtually cut in two,” Dr. Gilbert reported. “We saw children torn completely apart …We saw amputations that looked like a huge ax had cut off their extremities. The DIME weapon is made from a tungsten metal alloy in a composite casting, and it’s shot by small rockets. The mechanism of the explosion is a chain reaction: it causes the metal to evaporate and dissipate. It’s made for targeted killing. We could not [categorize] them as anything else other than DIME bombs.”
Extensive research has shown that DIME bombs are also highly carcinogenic, continuing to lethally affect the victim long after the initial strike.
Israel denies its military’s use of DIME bombs against civilians in Gaza, but independent European researchers and medical eyewitnesses, such as Dr. Gilbert, insist that this weapon was indeed used indiscriminately.
At the same time as it claims a shortage of ammunition and equipment, while receiving several billions of US taxpayer dollars for its military budget, Israel is currently preparing the launch of what officials are calling the “Iron Dome” system, reportedly capable of intercepting short-range artillery shells and homemade rockets along the northern border with Lebanon and the southern borders with the occupied Gaza strip. According to Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the system will be integrated into the Israeli military by this summer. That project is reported to cost at least $215 million.
Habeeb of Gaza, however, remains extremely worried about this new era of weapons proliferation plans between Israel and the US. “Israel already has enough weapons to destroy the whole world,” he said. “As a Palestinian, I thought Obama would send us the results of his change, which was peace. Instead, we get missiles.”