Did Israel Violate Arms Export Control Act? Former UN Assistant Secretary-General Writes to Secretary Clinton

Dr. Peter Bourne has written to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking if Israel’s use of weapons, which were bought from the United States, in the flotilla attack constitutes a violation of the AECA. The National Lawyers Guild Emergency Delegation to Gaza, February, 2009, found evidence that Israel violated the AECA during Operation Cast Lead. Dear Secretary of State Clinton,

I am writing to request that the State Department investigate whether Israel violated the Arms Export Control Act, which strictly limits the use of U.S. weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense,” by attacking the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31, 2010.

Israel’s attack-in international waters-on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which was composed of six ships attempting to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid to the blockaded Palestinian Gaza Strip, resulted in the deaths of at least nine humanitarian activists, with dozens more injured. More than 600 activists were taken against their will to Israel for detention and/or deportation. We are particularly concerned about reports that in the course of its attack on the flotilla, Israel may have beaten two U.S. citizens: Huwaida Arraf, Esquire, of Washington, D.C., and Dr. Paul Larudee, of El Cerrito, California.

Given these circumstances, we are asking the State Department to determine whether Israel’s act of aggression on the high seas against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla constituted “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense” according to the terms of usage for U.S. weapons as defined in the Arms Export Control Act.

We are particularly concerned and request you to investigate whether Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla violated international law generally and the UN Convention on the Laws of the Seas specifically. This convention, considered to be customary international law, provides for a general right of freedom of navigation on international waters. Article 88 of the convention states: “The high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes.” Article 89 states: “No State may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty.”

The United States has provided the Israeli navy and air force with weapons through Foreign Military Financing (FMF) budget allocations that were, or may have been used, in this attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israel Air Force used three Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to transport its commandos to the ships. The Israel Air Force is reported to have 49 of these combat helicopters.

In addition, the United States has transferred additional weapons to the Israeli Navy that may have been used in violation of the Arms Export Control Act during its attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. In July 2008, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DCSA) notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to Israel of four littoral combat ships (LCS-I variant), associated equipment, and services valued at up to $1.9 billion. The Israeli Navy is also reported to have three Sa’ar 5-class corvettes built in the United States.

In addition, press reports indicate that Israel may have used U.S. guns, ammunition, night vision goggles, and crowd dispersal weapons in its attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

Once again, we request the State Department to investigate whether Israel’s attack upon the Gaza Freedom Flotilla violated the Arms Export Control Act, and which U.S. weapons Israel may have been misused in this attack.

As a country that values the rule of law, we have an obligation to ensure that the United States applies and enforces its laws on an equal basis. This holds true even more so in the case of our friends who purport to share common values of democracy and human rights with the United States. In this regard, Israel’s actions must conform to the same standards that we expect from any other country receiving U.S. weapons under the terms of the Arms Export Control Act. To exempt Israel’s actions from this investigatory process required by the law would be to hold our ally Israel to an unfair standard and single it out for special treatment.

This request for a Department of State investigation into Israel’s possible violation of the Arms Export Control Act during its attack upon the Gaza Freedom Flotilla should take place in conjunction with, and not serve as a replacement for, the Obama Administration’s support within the UN Security Council for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards” of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

We look forward to a prompt response to our request for an investigation.


Peter G. Bourne, M.D.
Washington, D.C.

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