The US and Australia: tethered to Israel’s genocide?

Jan 21, 2024
Small flags of Israel on a blurry background.

With Netanyahu now declaring Israel will not accept the creation of a Palestinian state the burning question is how the US will react. To complicate matters Netanyahu has also said that the war against Hamas will continue for months enlightening the world to the fact that the slaughter of civilians will continue. To this course of action Israel has been able to lock in US support.

Logistically the IDF have an iron clad US supply line of weapons to continue the war deep into 2024. That supply has a twofold guarantee. The Biden presidency is, as one commentator has noted, “…tethered to Israel’s genocide” by its annual commitment of $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel – and which does not require annual congressional approval. The tether has been massively reinforced by the $14.5 billion military aid to Israel voted by congress in November last year. Between 1946 and 2023 the tether has been secured by $124 billion in military aid to Israel and which has enabled Israel to develop its own arms industry (and become a major exporter of arms).

Of course as Kellie Tranter (P & I 18 Jan) has reminded us, Australia’s also has an albeit smaller but still significant tether in the form of the recent supply of spare parts for Israel’s F35 fighters and Pine Gap’s role in supplying the IDF vital communications and electronic intelligence from the Gaza battlefield.

The second supply line guarantee for Israel is the vice like grip the Jewish lobby has on the US Congress and President Biden (long an ardent and vocal supporter of Israel) – particularly in this, an election year. That assures Israel the US will continue to bankroll the progressive destruction of Gaza. This has and surely will be complete support – there is no hint of a crisis of conscience over supply of unguided missiles and bombs nor agonising over the civilian destroying force of 2000 bombs. There is no serious pressure being applied to bring about a cease fire – other than the superficial qualified advocacy by Biden and Blinken. Indeed how can such patently weak support for a ceasefire carry legitimacy when the US has so comprehensively and prematurely repudiated the charge of genocide before the International Court of Justice ((CJ)?

The ICJ is nevertheless causing problems for the US given it has widely aired the unacceptable way in which Israel is carrying out the war in Gaza. While whether the ICJ finds Israel culpable of genocide against the population of Gaza is no sure thing it is clear that the following tests of genocide are well and truly being met:

• Killing members of the group
• Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
• Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about a group’s physical destruction, in whole or in part.

Israel’s defence is centred on the claim that its Defence Force (IDF) is doing nothing more than waging a war against Hamas and that the civilian casualties are unavoidable unfortunate collateral damage. The problem is, of course, the extraordinary number of civilian casualties is outsized, way beyond current warfare norms and way beyond any measure of proportionality. At the time of writing the shocking statistics are: total killed in Gaza according to Hamas’s Ministry of Health (and which the WHO accepts as reasonably accurate) is 24,000 two thirds of which are civilian and mostly women and children. A further 7000 are missing presumed dead; 60,000 have been wounded and maimed. 85% of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced.

Death rates are running at around 250 a day although the IDF has claimed a lesser figure of 160. Which ever is used they are way beyond the death rate of recent wars and way beyond for example the horrific destruction of Mosul (a similarly dense urban region) when 40 deaths a day occurred.

The physical destruction rate has been equally massive. Some two thirds of northern Gaza has been flattened as has well over one third of all structures in Gaza as a whole with the prospect of six moths more of mowing the human and structural grass in southern Gaza to come. 1.9 million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes in the Gaza Strip where 67,946 housing units have been completely destroyed and 179,750 housing units damaged. In total, two thirds of the buildings in northern Gaza have been have destroyed. A recent survey indicates that within Gaza some 318 schools, 1,612 industrial facilities, 169 health facilities including 23 hospitals, 57 clinics, 89 ambulances, 201 mosques, three churches and 169 press offices have been hit by Israeli bombardments.

Why the killing rate and wholesale destruction of Gaza’s physical infrastructure has been so massive is not hidden from view. The widespread use of huge 2000 lb bombs is in full view. As one former Pentagon defence official and a war crimes investigator for the U.N has observed, while designed as bunker busters “It (the 2000 lb bombs) pancake entire buildings.” He further reveals that the explosion of such a bomb in the open means “instant death” for anyone within about 30 meters with lethal fragmentation extending for up to 365 meters. The use of such bombs was widely publicised in the early assault on Northern Gaza. However, it is reported that while the IDF claim a lightening application of force in southern Gaza, there have already been 200 cases of the use of 2000 lb bombs in this region.

A no less murderous effect on civilians is the extensive use of unguided munitions – an estimated third of all those used by the IDF in Gaza. Nearly half the air-to-ground missiles used are also unguided according to a U.S. intelligence assessment, which Pentagon officials have admitted help explain the high civilian death toll. But even the precision-guided munitions that the US military has so favoured in its campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are known to produce high civilian casualties in densely populated urban areas – all the more so in Gaza.

Nevertheless, in aggressively refuting any claims of war crimes or genocidal intent the IDF’s public relations machine make the sweeping and patently absurd claim that it “…does everything possible to limit civilian casualties in Gaza”. The bottom line is that with over 200 bombing missions daily there is no realistic possibility that the intelligence is always accurate, that there is always warnings to residents let alone that the IDF can guaranteed accuracy of the delivered ordinance. The IDF does, however, point to a suite of measures which it would like the world to believe largely absolves the IFD of blame for civilian casualties. It draws attention its use of leaflets which it claims are widely used to urge civilians to move away from Hamas targets and make clear Israel’s intention to minimise civilian casualties. ‘Roof-knocking’ is also advertised as a means to lessen civilian casualties. In this case the IDF claims that when it targets a building it is preceded with a loud but non-lethal bomb which is designed to allow residents to leave the area before the IDF targets the site with live ammunition. As well, the IDF makes the claim that it has been aborting at the last minute aerial strikes due to civilians being present at the site of the target. The IDF seeks to further absolve themselves of blame for the horrendous high casualty count by accusing Hamas of encouraging the population of Gaza to ignore their warning devices.

The problem with IDF’s spin is that the need for such a complex of avoidance measures flows from the nature, force and frequency of their bombing of Gaza. Here lies an admission that it is inherently highly destructive of civilians and the region’s physical infrastructure. That these avoidance measures, numerous as they are, have demonstrably failed is bleedingly obvious. Nor can the IDF absolve itself of such a comprehensive failure. It beggars belief that 24,000 men women and children deliberately ignored these warnings and willingly scarified themselves on the altar of Hamas.

Notwithstanding the substantial evidence of genocidal intent Israel’s underlying support from the US has remained rock solid. The question now is whether it is robust enough to withstand a refusal to create Palestinian state. If the IDF does indeed meet its stated goal of eradicating Hamas does this not create an environment conducive to the creation of a Palestinian state? But even if so, it is hard to see the US Congress or Biden being willing to apply meaningful pressure on Israel over the creation of a Palestinian state. Any chance of exerting real pressure would be in the hands of the international community. Unfortunately, in Australia we have one of the most vociferous Jewish lobby groups in the world and a print media slavishly in support of Israel. This makes any fundamental change in our policy a perilous one for Labour. But surely a blunt refusal to create a Palestinian state is sufficient for Albanese to find some policy spine.

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