Press Overlooks U.S. Role as Arms Merchant in Mideast Conflict
For better or worse, the U.S. has a special role in the current conflict as supplier of the best weapons money can buy to one side. Yet the media nearly always underplays this angle, even though it has enormous consequences, not just for those under fire in Lebanon but for Americans at home.
By Greg Mitchell
(July 27, 2006) -- The cable news networks must be getting attacked, by someone, for offering relentless gavel-to-gavel coverage of the current crisis in the Middle East, for hosts or producers for three different cable news programs have asked me this week if I thought they were going overboard. They all seemed relieved, and surprised, when I answered no, although my reason for saying so included a criticism of their coverage, and that provided by nearly all newspapers.
The conflict would be worth massive attention on its own merits (or demerits), but what really makes it so significant for an American audience is our own deep involvement in that war and the possible dire consequences for our country. The issue does not get much play — Fox News, for example, seems to be more concerned about Hezbollah sneaking agents over the Mexican or Canadian borders into the U.S.
Simply put: Those are largely American made, supplied, and/or paid for missiles falling on Lebanon today, emerging from jets, tanks and artillery linked to the USA. Much of it could be described as your tax dollars at work -- or the best weapons money can buy. In all, Israel has received since 2001 about $10.5 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) from the U.S., the most of any country, while also spending $6.3 billion on U.S. arms deliveries.
While the U.S. press -- and leading liberal bloggers -- pretty much ignores this, the media abroad does not, and none of it is lost on those who live in or near the Middle East. In this country we read or hear countless references to “Iranian-supplied rockets” or “weapons provided by Syria” but when is that last time you heard a reference to a particular Israeli jet or missile that was sent over by our country?
If you think we should be proud of arming the assault on Lebanon’s infrastructure and civilian neighborhoods, fine. If you are appalled, or worried about how others view this, okay. In either case, you might want to read on, because you won’t see much of this in your local paper.
Probably the most publicity this received lately came just days ago when the U.S. announced it would be providing $30 million in relief aid to Lebanon—while at the same time rushing new weapons to Israel. Asked if there were a contradiction between U.S. arms sales to Israel and aid supplies to Lebanon, U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said Washington's position was based on "two pillars to how we need to deal with the conflict. One pillar is humanitarian assistance. ... The other is to find conditions for a sustainable cease-fire."
Space does not allow a full accounting of U.S. arms shipments to Israel in the past year, but to cite just one current budget line: “100 Guided Bomb Units (GBU-28) that include: BLU-113 A/B penetration warhead.” That only cost $30 million. Another budget line for $319 million cites “5,000 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) tail kits.”
These can be dropped from the air by some of the 102 F-16 aircraft sent to Israel since 2001 (price tag: over $4.5 billion). And those aircraft will stay in the air, thanks to emergency approval last week by the U.S. for $210 million in JP-8 jet fuel to go to the Israeli military. Israel also has from the U.S. over 700 M-60 tanks, 89 F-15 combat aircraft, missiles and bombs of all kinds and scores of attack helicopters.
One of the more obscure items in that arsenal, however, came to the fore this week, although it got little notice in the mainstream press.
Human Rights Watch, which has no dog in this fight – it has storngly condemned the Hamas and Hizbollah rockets attacks, for example – issued a bulletin on Monday, revealing that Israel has used artillery-fired "cluster" bombs in populated areas of Lebanon, producing documented civilian casualties. “Cluster munitions are unacceptably inaccurate and unreliable weapons when used around civilians,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “They should never be used in populated areas.”
Newsweek online confirmed the report today, with photos, adding, "Israel, under pressure from the United States, had not used cluster munitions in Lebanon since 1982."
The cluster shells explode in the air and scatter hundreds of tiny bomblets in a wide area. Because of the high "dud" rate for the bomblets, civilians who step on them are killed months later.
Human Rights Watch researchers photographed cluster munitions among the arsenal of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) artillery teams stationed on the Israeli-Lebanese border on July 23. The photographs show M483A1 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions which, of course, are U.S.-produced and -supplied. Human Rights Watch "believes that the use of cluster munitions in populated areas may violate the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks contained in international humanitarian law,” it said in a statement, calling on Israel to cease and desist. The group earlier established that the use of cluster munitions in Iraq caused more civilian casualties than any other factor in the early U.S.-led military operations in 2003.
But all of this leads to a final, perhaps hopeful, angle underplayed by the press. That is: The fact that the U.S. is such a strong patron potentially gives us enormous influence in pressuring Israel to exercise restraint or accept a ceasefire. Newspaper editorial pages, which with rare exception, shamefully gave Israel a blank check to bomb at will during the first two weeks of the air assault, can make up for lost time now.
“The billions of dollars of U.S. arms and aid it provides every year gives the Bush administration substantial leverage,” observed William Hartung and Frida Berrigan of the World Policy Institute in New York this week. “Without at least discussing U.S. military support for Israel, it will be difficult—if not impossible—for Americans to understand the options available to our government in this crisis.”
From The New York Times, July 29:
"A large oil spill and fire caused by Israeli bombing have sent an oil slick traveling up the coast of Lebanon to Syria, threatening to become the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history and engulfing this town in smoke. 'The escalating Israeli attacks on Lebanon did not only kill its civilians and destroy its infrastructure, but they are also annihilating its environment,' warned Green Line, a Lebanese environmental group, in a statement issued Thursday. 'This is one of the worst environmental crises in Lebanese history.'
"The most significant damage has come from airstrikes on an oil storage depot at the edge of Jiyeh on July 13 and 15. Oil spewed into the Mediterranean Sea and a fire erupted that has been burning ever since."
From Reuters, July 29:
"President Bush apologized on Friday to British Prime Minister Tony Blair after Britain complained Washington had not followed correct procedures for sending bombs to Israel via a British airport, a British official said. The British government had formally complained to the United States over its use of a British airport for transiting bombs to Israel.
"Blair's spokesman told reporters traveling with Blair that Bush raised the issue briefly at the start of his meeting with Blair at the White House. 'President Bush did apologize for the fact that proper procedures were not followed,' the spokesman said. British media reported on Wednesday that aircraft carrying 'bunker-busting' bombs from the United States to Israel refueled at Prestwick airport in Scotland over the weekend."
Greg Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of E&P.
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