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Banning Weapons Sales to Israel: Questions to Ask

Weapons Sales to Israel
Photo by SaiKrishna Saketh Yellapragada on Unsplash

Mary Lawlor, a UN Special Rapporteur, recently wrote that there is no moral justification for continued weapons sales to Israel. She says that Israel’s conduct in Gaza is disproportionate and therefore illegal, cites numerous allegations of Israeli war crimes, and says countries which continue to supply Israel with weapons are failing in their obligation to protect human rights.

Of course, to those who believe Israel’s conduct in the current war is appropriate and in keeping with humanitarian law, this is an outrage. But what can we say about weapons sales if we support and care about Israel, but also share some of the concerns raised by Lawlor?

Here are some questions we might ask people advocating against weapons sales. These questions are not aiming to change anyone’s overall opinion of the conflict, but only to point out the complexity of the situation and encourage a more balanced view.

Without Weapons Israel Would be Destroyed

First, whatever you think of what Israel is currently doing in Gaza, if Israel didn’t have the means to defend itself it would be overrun by Hamas and Hezbollah. If Israel was to become weakened by an arms embargo to the point where those groups and their allies believed that they might someday be able to totally destroy it, this would discourage them from even considering compromises or making peace.

Furthermore, should those groups ever heaven forbid succeed at even capturing Israeli territory, what they would do is unspeakable. We saw this on Oct. 7th. Therefore, an Israel capable of defending itself is necessary for long-term peace and to prevent its enemies from perpetrating atrocities upon its citizens. How does a ban on weapons sales account for this?

What Weapons?

Second, Mary Lawlor writes simply that the world should refuse to sell Israel weapons. But what weapons? Does refusing to sell Israel any weapons at all make sense?

What about Iron Dome, the system that intercepts Hamas rockets in midair? Hamas aims its rockets at Israel’s civilian population, in violation of humanitarian law. Shouldn’t those who attempt to uphold humanitarian law consider purely defensive weapons like this which thwart illegal attacks a good idea?

What about the precision guided bombs and missiles that Israel often uses to carry out attacks in Gaza? If Israel no longer had access to such high-tech weaponry, most likely it would just resort to using cruder unguided weapons that cause even more destruction. Those complaining that Israel is causing too much harm to civilians ought to want to make sure Israel has more high-tech weapons, not less.

What about tanks, artillery, and all the rest of the equipment Israel needs to defend itself from a potential attack by Hezbollah along the Northern border? Of course, those weapons could be used in Gaza too. The reality is that many of the same weapons being used in Gaza are also exactly what Israel needs to deter and potentially defend itself against the very real threat of attacks from elsewhere. Banning weapons sales to Israel might hamper the Gaza war, but it would also encourage or even enable aggression by Hezbollah or others. How do those campaigning to ban weapon sales deal with that?

How Long?

Third, how long would a ban on weapons sales to Israel last? Until the end of the Gaza war? Until the implementation of a two-state solution? Until the coming of the mashiach? Without a clear and foreseeable endpoint, a ban on weapons sales is essentially a death sentence. Israel’s enemies would know the longer they wait the weaker Israel gets. Surely, even those who believe Israel is committing war crimes can’t claim that means that the entire country somehow loses its right to defend itself into the indefinite future. So when and under what conditions do people advocating against weapons sales to Israel now plan for their ban to end?

The point here is not to change anyone’s mind about the war, or to attempt to defend or justify Israel’s conduct. That’s a different discussion. But no matter our opinions about all that, one thing we should all be able to agree on is that there are no easy answers. It’s understandable why people who view Israel’s current conduct as violating humanitarian law would want to ban weapons sales. But they should at least realize how problematic that would be and why it’s far from an ideal measure.

About the Author
Shlomo Levin received Rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and Yeshivat Hamivtar, and an M.A. in International Law and Human RIghts from the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica. He is the author of the Human Rights Haggadah, which highlights human rights issues in the Passover story with Jewish and secular sources along and questions for discussion. Learn more at http://www.hrhaggadah.com.
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