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The rapidly changing situation in Gaza, where Israel has begun moving into Rafah, has heightened expectations for the U.S. National Security Memorandum on the war. Ramez Habboub/AP

Democrats Urgently Want a Detailed Report on Israel’s Conduct in Gaza

The State Department is expected to miss its own deadline to produce findings on how Israel has used the United States’ weapons.

Democrats want President Joe Biden’s administration to deliver a thorough, detailed report on how Israel is using U.S. weapons — and they want it really soon.

“This is going to be the first of many tests,” Sen. Tim Kaine told NOTUS of the administration’s ability to oversee military aid to the region. “Does it establish a fair hurdle, way too high of a hurdle, or a two-inch hurdle that is essentially, you know, meaningless?”

The Biden administration told lawmakers it will miss its own Wednesday deadline to produce the report, which is expected to determine whether Israel has violated international humanitarian law. Biden issued the National Security Memorandum, requiring the report by May 8, in February.

The administration has yet to establish a level of detail and accountability for such a report. But the rapidly changing situation in Gaza, where Israel has begun moving into Rafah, blocking humanitarian aid, has set very high expectations among Democrats in Congress.

“I think we’ve seen really grave concerns about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Rep. Mikie Sherrill said. “I don’t think we are seeing a dedication to supporting the U.S.’s humanitarian aid efforts, or others’ humanitarian aid efforts, in line with our values and what we think should be happening there.”

Democratic lawmakers say they are looking for specifics on how Israel used U.S. munitions.

“I’ll be looking for the rate of use of unguided munitions, naval gunfire … unguided stuff in an urban environment is really hard,” Sen. Mark Kelly, a Navy veteran, told NOTUS. “You don’t want innocent women and kids and old people getting killed. The Israelis have to do better.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who has been outspoken about the need to hold Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accountable for human rights violations, said she wants the report to cover the entire breadth of the conflict.

“I’m looking for a really clear analysis, going back to the beginning, not just recently, but looking at all of the actions and whether they need our domestic policy or U.S. law and policy,” Jayapal said of the forthcoming report.

Rep. Ro Khanna told NOTUS he’s looking for the administration to address some of the independent findings, which have reported that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that Israel has used illegal tactics in their war in Gaza.

“I hope it’ll take on what the independent report has taken on,” Khanna told NOTUS. “Which is specifics about residential strikes and an analysis of whether they comply with international law.”

Lawmakers sidestepped adding conditions on the military aid package to Israel, with several calling on the administration to take on that responsibility. Sens. Chris Murphy and Chris Coons both previously pointed to the NSM 20, saying the executive branch had to handle accountability.

The timing of the report’s deadline puts Biden in a politically challenging position. CIA Director Bill Burns is in Cairo, Egypt, attempting to mediate negotiations for a cease-fire. At the same time, the Israel Defense Forces have begun escalating their military operations in Rafah, where more that 1 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering with virtually nowhere else to go.

Administration officials confirmed Tuesday that the United States had delayed shipments of ammunition to Israel, specifically precision bombs previously ordered by the U.S. Air Force for use by the IDF. The report’s findings could further determine U.S. policy on military aid to Israel. State Department spokesperson Mike Miller said the U.S. has had specific conversations with Israel urging “much more limited, much more targeted, much more effective” operations to defeat Hamas instead of a full-scale invasion of Rafah. Israel’s war in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians; the majority of casualties were women and children.

“Those look very different than the types of operations that we have seen proposed publicly by the Israeli government,” Miller said. White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby also spoke to the administration’s concerns in Rafah on Tuesday.

Some Democrats have cautioned against any drastic changes in U.S. policy, calling the report part of a “normal” review process.

“This type of review is for all of our foreign partners, and it is usually a consultation process where concerns can be expressed and corrections can be made.” Sen. Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said of the “normal” process of reviewing military aid partnerships, independent of the current support for Israel. “It’s not meant to stop funds or partnerships, but to make sure [aid is] directed as it’s intended to be directed.”

Republicans, meanwhile, say the U.S. should continue to send weapons to Israel, even if the report finds human rights violations.

“If they found that [Israel is] in violation of humanitarian laws, that would block the sale of any weapons to Israel,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I think that would be a serious mistake.”

Biden would have 45 days after the report is published to make recommendations to Israel to correct any situation that is against U.S. law.

The way Israel has approached the conflict is starting to lose even some of its supporters in Congress.

“I’m very frustrated by how all of this is unfolding,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan told NOTUS. Houlahan has been a staunch supporter of Israel’s aid in the past. “There’s people at the negotiating table that don’t have the interests of their citizens in mind.”

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.