September 13, 2006
By Meron Rapoport
“In Lebanon, we covered entire villages with cluster bombs, what we did there was crazy and monstrous,” testifies a commander in the Israel Defense Forces’ MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) unit. Quoting his battalion commander, he said the IDF fired some 1,800 cluster rockets on Lebanon during the war and they contained over 1.2 million cluster bombs. The IDF also used cluster shells fired by 155 mm artillery cannons, so the number of cluster bombs fired on Lebanon is even higher. At the same time, soldiers in the artillery corps testified that the IDF used phosphorous shells, which many experts say is prohibited by international law. According to the claims, the overwhelming majority of the weapons mentioned were fired during the last ten days of the war.
The commander asserted that there was massive use of MLRS rockets despite the fact that they are known to be very inaccurate – the rockets’ deviation from the target reaches to around 1,200 meters – and that a substantial percentage do not explode and become mines. Due to these facts, most experts view cluster ammunitions as a “non-discerning” weapon that is prohibited for use in a civilian environment. The percentage of duds among the rockets fired by the U.S. army in Iraq reached 30 percent and the United Nations’ land mine removal team in Lebanon claims that the percentage of duds among the rockets fired by the IDF reaches some 40 percent. In light of these figures, the number of duds left behind by the Israeli cluster rockets in Lebanon is likely to reach half a million.
According to the commander, in order to compensate for the rockets’ imprecision, the order was to “flood” the area with them. “We have no option of striking an isolated target, and the commanders know this very well,” he said. He also stated that the reserve soldiers were surprised by the use of MLRS rockets, because during their regular army service, they were told these are the IDF’s “judgment day weapons” and intended for use in a full-scale war.
The commander also said that at least in one case, they were asked to fire cluster rockets toward “a village’s outskirts” in the early morning: “They told us that this is a good time because people are coming out of the mosques and the rockets would deter them.” In other cases, they fired the rockets at a range of less than 15 kilometers, even though the manufacturer’s guidelines state that firing at this range considerably increases the number of duds. The commander further related that during IDF training exercises hardly any live rockets are fired, for fear that they would leave duds behind and fill the IDF’s firing grounds with mines.
After being discharged from his reserve duty, the commander sent a letter to Defense Minister Amir Peretz and protested the number of cluster rockets fired in Lebanon, which “perhaps the generals forgot to mention.” “As far as the duds are concerned,” he wrote, “we have no control over who is hurt. Sooner or later they will explode in people’s hands.” He has yet to receive a response from the defense minister.
At the same time, soldiers are reporting that they fired phosphorous shells, which are supposed to be used by the IDF for marking or setting fire to areas, in order to start fires in Lebanon. The artillery commander says he saw trucks with phosphorous shells en route to artillery batteries in the North.
A direct hit from a phosphorous shell causes severe burns and a painful death. Around a year ago, there was an international scandal after a television crew presented harsh pictures of the charred bodies of Iraqis injured by phosphorous bombs during the course of the American attack on the city of Fallujah.
International law prohibits the use of weapons that cause “excessive damage and unnecessary suffering,” and many experts feel that phosphorous is included in this category. The International Red Cross determined that international law prohibits the use of phosphorous against humans. The American “Book of War,” published in 1999, which sets down the rules of war for the American army, states: “The ground war law prohibits the use of phosphorous against human targets.” The pact on prohibiting or limiting flammable weapons bans the use of phosphorous against civilian targets and against military targets found amid large civil populations.
The IDF Spokesperson said: “International law does not contain a sweeping ban on the use of cluster bombs. The Conventional Weapons Pact does not stipulate a ban on the use of inflammatory weapons (i.e., phosphorous – M.R.), rather it only offers rules for organizing the use of this weapon. For understandable operational reasons, the IDF will not comment on a detailed listing of the weaponry at its disposal. The IDF uses only methods and weapons that are permitted according to international law. The firing of artillery in general, including the firing of artillery to demolish a target, was initiated in response to firing at the State of Israel only.” The defense minister’s bureau said in response that it had yet to receive an inquiry on the matter of firing cluster rockets.