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Does US support for Israel's Nuseirat attack have legal ramifications?

Reports say the US provided support to Israel's hostage rescue that killed 274 Palestinians. Experts say it violates US law
Men stand among debris of an Israel operation that killed more than 200 Palestinians in order to rescue four hostages in Nuseirat refugee camp central Gaza on 9 June 2024.
Men stand among debris of an Israel operation that killed more than 200 Palestinians in order to rescue four captives in Nuseirat refugee camp central Gaza on 9 June 2024 (Abed Khaled/Reuters)

The reports over the weekend stating that the United States provided support for the Israeli military's hostage rescue operation, where Israel killed an estimated 274 Palestinians to free four captives, has raised new concerns that US President Joe Biden's administration is flouting the American legal system to aid Israel.

One report by the Washington Post said that the US provided intelligence to Israel's military, which aided in the operation over the weekend.

A US official told Axios that an American cell in Israel "supported" the Israeli military's operation, and the New York Times later reported the US provided "intelligence and other logistical support".

Brian Finucane, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, said in a social media post on X that the Post's reporting would mean that it could "raise issues" for US forces under a specific executive order that states: "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in assassination."

The New York Times further reported that among the support provided by the US was the use of its MQ9 Reaper armed drones, six of which have been used to fly over Gaza and monitor for signs of life.

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The Times report stated that intelligence sharing between the US and Israel initially began at the outset of the war with a focus on hostage recovery, but "over time the collaboration expanded".

Israel's military operation took place on Saturday at the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza, where Israeli forces went into the camp, and killed 274 Palestinians, including scores of women and children.

The operation saw three men and a woman who were taken captive at the Nova music festival brought back to Israel. They were named as Noa Argamani, 25, Almog Meir Jan, 21, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 40.

Beyond the single executive order, anti-war groups say that the US support touted in the Israeli operation would invoke the War Powers resolution, a decades-long congressional measure used to limit the president's ability to wage armed conflict abroad.

US involved in Israeli rescue operation that killed over 200 Palestinians
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"The executive branch has flimsy legal justification right now for what's going on. They might cite leaning on their Article Two powers, but clearly, this has just been going on and Congress really hasn't weighed in," Hassan El-Tayyab, the legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), told Middle East Eye.

Article Two of the US Constitution declares the sitting US president to be the country's commander-in-chief of the arms forces. However, Congress and the legislative branch of government have the ultimate authority to wage an official war.

"The real question is, are there members that think this has crossed the line to the point where they're willing to take action? And that's the question we're at right now. So far, no one's introduced a war powers resolution, but that would be the next step."

The US involvement in the Israeli operation also renews concerns over another aspect of Washington's support of the war - that being the role of US intelligence sharing with Israel.

In March, the Wall Street Journal reported on the extensive intelligence sharing between the two countries regarding Gaza. 

"Regardless of the actual nature of US intelligence support to the IDF [Israeli army], the continuing presence of US ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) assets over Gaza during the past eight months makes a mockery of the Biden administration's claims to be uncertain as to whether war crimes have been committed," Josh Paul, a former State Department official who resigned in October in protest of US support for the war on Gaza, told MEE.

Paul said that this intelligence provided by the US has the added scrutiny of meaning that Washington has likely "hoovered up an immense amount of data concerning Israeli strikes and civilian harm".

"If the US is not integrating that data into its assessments of the conduct of the war, such as the recent report to Congress under NSM-20, that is a deliberate decision on its part to turn a blind eye not only to open source reporting from the media and nongovernmental organisations, but also from its own intelligence collection," he said.

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