Some in State Department don’t believe Israel is using US weapons in accordance with international law, source says

CNNThe State Department is divided over whether Israel is using American-provided weapons in accordance with international law ahead of a fast-approaching deadline next week for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make a determination to Congress.

There is not unanimity about whether to accept Israel’s assurances about this as “credible and reliable,” a department official said. Israel was required to make those assurances to the US under a national security memorandum issued by President Joe Biden in February.

The memorandum requires all countries receiving US weapons to make assurances that they are using them “in a manner consistent with all applicable international and domestic law and policy, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

Under that memorandum, Blinken must tell Congress by May 8 whether he has certified the assurances to be credible and reliable.

Human rights groups have accused Israel of committing war crimes and abuses during the war in Gaza. Several hundred officials from Western countries, including some from the US, have previously raised concerns that their governments may be complicit in war crimes in their support of Israel’s fight against Hamas.

The State Department official Sunday did not give further details about which parts of the department are in favor of accepting Israel’s assurances, which are in favor of rejecting them, and which took no position.

Reuters reported Sunday that four bureaus – Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Population, Refugees and Migration; Global Criminal Justice; and International Organization Affairs – raised “serious concern over non-compliance” with international humanitarian law during the war.

“We don’t comment on leaked documents, especially those purporting to contain classified information,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

“On complex issues, the Secretary often hears a diverse range of views from within the Department, and he takes all of those views into consideration,” he said. “In this instance, the Department received the assurances that were required by the National Security Memorandum, and we are now preparing a report to Congress.”

The concerns come after Biden signed into law an aid package that includes $26 billion for Israel. That funding includes $4.4 billion to replenish defense items and services provided to Israel and $3.5 billion for the procurement of advanced weapons systems and other items through the Foreign Military Financing Program.

Since Hamas’ attack on Israel in October, which killed over 1,200 Israelis, the US has made more than 100 foreign military sales to Israel. More than 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health.

Progressives are growing increasingly frustrated with Biden’s support for Israel, as protests over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza spread across the US, most notably on college campuses, where protesters have decried the stance of “Genocide Joe.” But the president on Sunday again reaffirmed his “ironclad” commitment to Israel in a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The White House could slow military provisions, curtail monetary assistance, or drastically ratchet up the public pressure on Netanyahu if the US concludes Israel is impeding aid to Gaza and not adhering to human rights laws.

Biden’s unconditional support for Israel’s war, though, has at times flagged. Following the Israeli strike that killed seven World Central Kitchen workers this month, the president for the first time threatened Netanyahu, telling him in a call that the US could be forced to make changes to free-flowing support if Israel did not make immediate moves to allow more humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Last week, the State Department’s annual report on human rights raised sharp concerns about war crimes reported in the conflict between Hamas and Israel. The report referred to actions taken by Hamas on October 7 and also included “reports of systemic torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment of Palestinian detainees in prison facilities after October 7” and the forced disappearance of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza.

While the report does not represent the US government’s own conclusions, Blinken said last week that the State Department was looking at the incidents.

“It’s important that we take the time to do our best to get the facts, to get the information, to do the analysis,” he said. “It’s very challenging to do this in real time.”

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that to his knowledge, “we don’t have any evidence of genocide being created” by Israel during its war in Gaza.

Blinken has previously called charges of genocide against Israel “meritless.”

CNN’s Michael Conte, Kayla Tausche and MJ Lee contributed to this report.