What's on That Ship, and Where Is It Going?
Once more, it is a tough choice between standing with Amnesty International or with the Obama administration. Once more, Amnesty International wins. Ouch.
U.S. arms transfers to third parties are regulated by the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), which provides export licenses only in cases that "will strengthen U.S. national security, promote foreign policy goals, or foster world peace. The Arms Export Control Act is administered by the Department of State."
Egypt is a major recipient of U.S. military aid and equipment, and to this point the Secretary of State has always certified that arms to Egypt meet the test. In addition, the administration is required to aver that Egypt is meeting its obligations under the peace treaty with Israel, and to this point, it has done so. However, since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian government has been extremely heavy-handed in its management of internal security -- with American weapons in its arsenal -- and overtly anti-Israel.
Enter Amnesty International.
Amnesty reported that from December 2011 to February 2012, the Egyptian military and security forces have killed more than 100 mainly peaceful protesters. During that time, the U.S. shipped "349 tons of military and dual use equipment valued at $35 million to the Egyptian Ministry of Defense." According to Amnesty, some U.S.-made tear gas canisters used against protesters in Suez had an August 2011 manufacture date, suggesting that they were part of a recent U.S. shipment of tear gas delivered to Egypt last fall.
That would make it hard to certify that military aid to Egypt "promote[s U.S.] foreign policy goals, or foster[s] world peace."
In addition, since the indictment in December of American civil society workers and the prevention of several from leaving the country, Congress, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, has added new conditions. Secretary of State Clinton is now required to certify that the Egyptian government is supporting a transition to civilian government, including free and fair elections, and policies to protect freedom of expression, association, religion, and due process of law. "The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law ... and our policy should not equivocate on these key reforms," said Sen. Leahy, adding that Secretary Clinton's decision to waive Congress's conditions on national security grounds sent the wrong signal.
But she waived them, and now, says Amnesty, a Dutch-flagged ship, the MV Schippersgracht, has sailed from the U.S. Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (CA) "carrying a class of dangerous goods that covers cartridges for weapons, fuses and other ammunition" headed to Egypt's Port Said. It wants Mrs. Clinton to clarify the final recipient of the cargo and give assurances that "this and other U.S. military cargoes are not going to any country where the recipients are likely to use the weapons to commit or facilitate serious violations of human rights"1.
That might be difficult.
The Egyptian Embassy denies that the ship is destined for Egypt, suggesting that it will be passing through the Suez Canal on its way to Asia2 and that American shipments to Egypt don't travel on Dutch ships. That is a point, but one in fact that may increase rather than decrease Amnesty International's -- and Sen. Leahy's -- discomfort with the ship.
Over the years, Israel has -- often with U.S. assistance -- followed and boarded merchant ships illegally carrying weapons to its adversaries. Less than a year ago, the Iranian military ships Alvand and Kharg transferred an estimated 50 tons of weapons to The Victoria, which Israel intercepted and offloaded. The Karine A, the Santorini, the Francop, the Hansa India, the Monchegorsk, and scores of smaller ships have been intercepted.
In January, the Russian freighter Chariot delivered tons of military equipment to Syria amid the government's murderous rampage against its own citizens. Investigative journalist Claudia Rosett followed its trail from there to an explosives depot in Turkey, to a Ukrainian port, through the Suez Canal and the Arabian Peninsula, and to the Iranian port of Assaluyeh. The ship's brokerage company acknowledged the arms for Syria ("to fight the rebels") but said the cargo to Iran was "Ukrainian generators." Really?
Egypt is not Syria or Iran; the U.S. is not Iran or Russia. But the Obama administration is clearly acting to thwart Congress's intentions on Egypt and has declined to respond to a request about the end user of materiel on a ship leaving a U.S. military installation. It is hard not to be suspicious of its intentions. Other countries have gone to great lengths to disguise military shipments to countries at war with their own people or at war with Israel -- Egypt is very close to the former and, by its own assertion, thinks of itself as the latter.
What arms we deliver, how we deliver them, and the ways they will be used by the recipient are more than fair questions for the Obama administration to answer -- and Amnesty International should be commended for asking.
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center. She was previously senior director for security policy at JINSA and author of JINSA Reports from 1995-2011.
1Amnesty wishes to be clear that it has no problem with weapons that might be used against Israel -- only with those that might be used against Egyptians, noting in its official statement that "we take no position on the use of U.S. military aid to fund Egyptian arms purchases that are primarily for national defense purposes and do not demonstrate a serious risk of being used to violate human rights. We oppose the funding, sale, or transfer of arms internationally where there is a substantial risk that the specific arms in question will be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations." Killing Israelis may be construed as "not a human rights violation."
2Why a ship that started in northern California would travel east to Asia is unclear: Pacific Ocean, Panama Canal, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal and Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean vs. Pacific Ocean west.