Biden adds guardrail to military assistance, under pressure from Senate Dems

President Biden added a layer of scrutiny to U.S. weapons sales to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, issuing guidance on how they can be used and linking them to humanitarian assistance.

Under pressure from Senate Democrats critical of the civilian suffering in the Gaza Strip amid Israel’s war against Hamas, the president issued a memorandum Thursday night that outlined the new guidance. It requires the U.S. to receive assurances from those countries that weapons being used in an active conflict comply with international law, and that no efforts are made to obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in a combat zone.

The memorandum mirrors an amendment filed late last year by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and supported by 18 Senate Democrats, who have said the U.S. needed to exert more pressure on Israel to protect civilian life and increase the flow of humanitarian assistance to those in need.

“A​ll of these key elements of the amendment have now been incorporated into the national security memo issued by the president,” Van Hollen said in a call with reporters Thursday evening, and added that he would be withdrawing the amendment.

“Because we succeeded in getting the provisions of the amendment adopted as a matter of U.S. government policy, we will no longer be seeking a vote on the amendment because we’ve accomplished our goal now with the assistance of the president and the administration.”

While the Senate amendment did not single out Israel, lawmakers who supported it pointed to deep concerns with how Israel is carrying out its military operations.

Van Hollen said the purpose of the amendment was “straightforward, it said we should make sure that U.S. security assistance is aligned with our values.”

The Biden administration has defended Israel’s military operation against Hamas in Gaza despite vast international pressure and domestic pushback calling for the president to push Israel to a cease-fire amid devastation and suffering among nearly 2 million Palestinians trapped under assault.

Still, the president has, at times, offered candid criticisms of Israel’s military operation, describing the bombing as “indiscriminate” and its assault as “over the top.”

While the majority of Congress supports President Biden’s support of Israel, some Democrats have raised concerns that the U.S. can be doing more to help protect civilian life.

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