U.S. Must Broker Mideast Cease-Fire

The United States supplies most of Israel’s weapons, and it bears some responsibility for the escalating violence in Israel and Lebanon. It must now use its influence to call for an immediate cease-fire in the assault that has killed so many innocent civilians.

The $3 billion in military aid (and an additional $2 billion in weaponry) that the United States sells and gives Israel every year offers the Bush administration substantial leverage.

With Washington’s help, Israel, which is roughly the size of Massachusetts, has the world’s largest F-16 fighter jet fleet outside the U.S. Air Force. The country has received or ordered more than 300 F-16s, and is now co-producing an Israeli version called the Sufa (or “storm” in Hebrew).

U.S. Generosity

For more than 30 years, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance. Each year, Washington provides enough military and economic aid to account for more than 20 percent of Israel’s total defense budget.

Israel’s reliance on Washington for aid and arms means that the Israeli military needs U.S. spare parts and technical assistance to maintain optimum performance in battle. This point was underscored July 14 when the Pentagon supported an Israeli request for jet fuel. This fuel will allow Israel to replace fuel used in bombing runs in Lebanon.

Official U.S. documents frame military aid to Israel in antiseptic terms. They state the aid as going to “help foster stability in a historically volatile region,” and to support Israel’s “multiyear defense modernization plan.”

But it’s hard to see how Israel’s current attacks on Lebanon can possibly lead to “stability” in the region. The Bush administration has been largely silent, aside from feeble calls for “restraint” in the Israeli bombing campaign.

U.S. Weapons Cause Suffering

Israel’s assault on Lebanese targets is largely “made in the U.S.A.” And the use of U.S. weaponry has caused immeasurable suffering in Lebanon, mostly among civilians, not members of Hezbollah.

So far, Israeli bombings carried out by F-16s and other warplanes have driven more than 500,000 people from their homes, according to Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Saniora.

News reports put the Lebanese death toll at about 400 so far. These have been overwhelmingly civilians, and almost half of them children, according to Save the Children UK.

In the same period, Hezbollah’s armed wing has killed 15 Israeli civilians, including one child, in rocket attacks into northern Israel, as well as more than a dozen soldiers. Hundreds of others, including many civilians, have been injured on both sides.

Given the billions of dollars of aid the United States provides to Israel every year and the central role of U.S.-supplied weaponry in the Israeli arsenal, it’s long past time for the Bush administration to use its clout with Israel to broker an immediate cease-fire.

No more Israeli or Lebanese civilians should be killed or displaced.

Frida Berrigan is a senior research associate at the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Research Center, where William D. Hartung is a senior fellow and the center’s director. They are both Foreign Policy In Focus analysts (online at www.fpif.org). They wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.