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Calls grow in Europe to halt arms exports to Israel as US Senate passes aid package

Some European countries say they have stalled arms exports to Israel amid growing consternation about the way it is waging war against Hamas in Gaza, while the United States Senate on Tuesday passed a $95 billion foreign aid package that includes further security assistance for Israel.

A court in the Netherlands on Monday told the Dutch government it must stop exporting F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, citing a “clear risk” that Israel’s fleet was being used to commit serious violations of international law in the Gaza Strip.

Three human rights groups, including Oxfam, brought the case to The Hague Court of Appeal, seeking to overturn a previous court decision that allowed the Dutch government to continue exporting F-35 parts to Israel. In Monday’s ruling, the court ordered the government to stop such exports within seven days.

The ruling came after the Italian and Spanish foreign ministers said recently that their countries had stopped all arms sales to Israel since the war began in Gaza more than four months ago, after Hamas’ attack on Israel. A regional government in Belgium also said it had suspended two licenses for gunpowder exports to Israel.

The concern around continuing arms exports to Israel comes after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last month ordered Israel to “take all measures” to comply with international laws on genocide. Israel has vehemently rejected the allegations in the genocide case, but the ICJ ruling added to the domestic pressure on many of Israel’s allies to criticize more forcefully the humanitarian situation in Gaza and demand a ceasefire.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday suggested that the US cut arms supplies to Israel amid mounting concerns about the civilian toll of the war. More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the enclave.

“If you believe that the death toll is too high, maybe you can do something to make it lower,” Borrell told reporters in Brussels. “The European Union is not providing arms to Israel. Others do.”

The US Senate on Tuesday approved a foreign aid package that includes $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel and aid for civilians in Gaza, as well as more support for Ukraine, setting up a showdown with the House as Speaker Mike Johnson has criticized the legislation.

But despite the US support for Israel, CNN has reported that President Joe Biden is growing increasingly frustrated behind the scenes with his Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden said last week he believes Israel’s campaign in Gaza is “over the top,” one of the sharpest condemnations to date of the war against Hamas.

The US has long been the biggest supplier of arms to Israel, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), and that support has continued despite the growing political pressure on the Biden administration over the Gaza offensive.

Will Dutch ruling make a difference?

The Dutch court said Monday that Israel does not “take sufficient account of the consequences of its attacks for the civilian population” in Gaza, and ordered the Netherlands to stop the export of parts of F-35 jets to Israel within a week. The government said it would appeal the decision.

“In the government’s view, the distribution of American F-35 parts is not unlawful. The government believes it is up to the State to determine foreign policy,” it said in a statement.

The ruling came as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz in Israel. Gantz said the court’s decision “will harm the global and Israeli imperative of fighting terror,” although it is unclear whether a ban on exporting parts from the Netherlands will affect overall supplies to Israel.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met Israeli cabinet minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 12, 2024. - Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met Israeli cabinet minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 12, 2024. - Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The US-made F-35 fighter jet is the Israeli Air Force’s “flagship asset,” according to Justin Bronk, senior research fellow for airpower and technology at the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a think tank.

“But while the F-35 is their most capable asset… for strikes on Gaza, it really isn’t important,” Bronk told CNN. Unlike in Lebanon, Syria and Iran, “there is no air defense threat per se over Gaza,” Bronk said, meaning Israel can conduct most of its strikes on Gaza with older, cheaper jets, such as the F-16 and F-15, as well as drones.

“Even if they have to stop flying F-35s entirely, it would have a pretty negligible effect on the Israeli Air Forces’ ability to conduct these sort of strikes on targets in Gaza,” Bronk said.

And if the Dutch government complies with the court’s decision, it could also hinder the Netherlands’ own military, Bronk said.

F-35 jets are maintained by a global supply chain designed to ensure large stockpiles of parts are not held in any given country. Instead, manufacturing occurs in multiple countries and depots are stationed across the world. The Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), developed by manufacturer Lockheed Martin, manages shipments between countries to ensure all users have the parts required when needed.

“Characterizing these as export sales of parts to Israel is not how this system works,” said Bronk, adding it is “difficult to see” how the court’s ruling would be implemented “without breaking key clauses” in the sustainment chain.

“If the Netherlands says, ‘we’re putting conditions on where parts that have been stored or made in the Netherlands are going in the global supply chain,’ you might well see the organizing Joint Program Office in the US saying, ‘Well, then, good luck getting parts for your own F-35 fleet, Netherlands Air Force,’” said Bronk.

Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told local media in late January that Italy had stopped all arms shipments to Israel since October 7. Pagella Politica, an Italian monitoring organization, said Italian companies had sold arms worth almost 120 million euros ($129 million) to Israel in the decade to 2022.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Albares too said in late January that his country had also halted arms sales to Israel in October. But Spanish outlet El Diaro reported Sunday that Spain in November exported 987,000 euros ($1.1 million) worth of ammunition to Israel, despite Albares claiming there was an embargo. Human rights group Amnesty International demanded the Spanish government make export data available to the public.

CNN’s Catherine Nicholls, Lauren Kent, Sharon Braithwaite, Claudia Rebazza, Kevin Liptak and MJ Lee contributed reporting.

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