Israel seeks greater lethality


Richard Moore

Never has there been such a shameful time in history. The world sits 
and watches while a whole nation is being brutally raped and murdered.


Original source URL:

August 11, 2006
Israel Asks U.S. to Ship Rockets With Wide Blast

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10 - Israel has asked the Bush administration to 
speed delivery of short-range antipersonnel rockets armed with 
cluster munitions, which it could use to strike Hezbollah missile 
sites in Lebanon, two American officials said Thursday.

The request for M-26 artillery rockets, which are fired in barrages 
and carry hundreds of grenade-like bomblets that scatter and explode 
over a broad area, is likely to be approved shortly, along with other 
arms, a senior official said.

But some State Department officials have sought to delay the approval 
because of concerns over the likelihood of civilian casualties, and 
the diplomatic repercussions. The rockets, while they would be very 
effective against hidden missile launchers, officials say, are fired 
by the dozen and could be expected to cause civilian casualties if 
used against targets in populated areas.

Israel is asking for the rockets now because it has been unable to 
suppress Hezbollah's Katyusha rocket attacks in the month-old 
conflict by using bombs dropped from aircraft and other types of 
artillery, the officials said. The Katyusha rockets have killed 
dozens of civilians in Israel.

The United States had approved the sale of M-26's to Israel some time 
ago, but the weapons had not yet been delivered when the crisis in 
Lebanon erupted. If the shipment is approved, Israel may be told that 
it must be especially careful about firing the rockets into populated 
areas, the senior official said.

Israel has long told American officials that it wanted M-26 rockets 
for use against conventional armies in case Israel was invaded, one 
of the American officials said. But after being pressed in recent 
days on what they intended to use the weapons for, Israeli officials 
disclosed that they planned to use them against rocket sites in 
Lebanon. It was this prospect that raised the intense concerns over 
civilian casualties.

During much of the 1980's, the United States maintained a moratorium 
on selling cluster munitions to Israel, following disclosures that 
civilians in Lebanon had been killed with the weapons during the 1982 
Israeli invasion. But the moratorium was lifted late in the Reagan 
administration, and since then, the United States has sold Israel 
some types of cluster munitions, the senior official said.

Officials would discuss the issue only on the condition of anonymity, 
as the debate over what to do is not resolved and is freighted with 
implications for the difficult diplomacy that is under way.

State Department officials "are discussing whether or not there needs 
to be a block on this sale because of the past history and because of 
the current circumstances," said the senior official, adding that it 
was likely that Israel will get the rockets, but will be told to be 
"be careful."

David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, 
declined to comment on Israel's request. He said, though, that "as a 
rule, we obviously don't fire into populated areas, with the 
exception of the use of precision-guided munitions against terrorist 
targets." In such cases, Israel has dropped leaflets warning of 
impending attacks to avoid civilian casualties, he said.

In the case of cluster munitions, including the Multiple Launch 
Rocket System, which fires the M-26, the Israeli military only fires 
into open terrain where rocket launchers or other military targets 
are found, to avoid killing civilians, an Israeli official said.

The debate over whether to ship Israel the missiles, which include 
the cluster munitions and use launchers that Israel has already 
received, comes as the Bush administration has been trying to win 
support for a draft United Nations resolution that calls for 
immediate cessation of "all attacks" by Hezbollah and of "offensive 
military operations" by Israel.

Arab governments, under pressure to halt the rising number of 
civilian casualties in Lebanon, have criticized the measure for not 
calling for a withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

While Bush administration officials have criticized Israeli strikes 
that have caused civilian casualties, they have also backed the 
offensive against Hezbollah by rushing arms shipments to the region. 
Last month the administration approved a shipment of precision-guided 
munitions, which one senior official said this week included at least 
25 of the 5,000-pound "bunker-buster" bombs.

Israel has recently asked for another shipment of precision-guided 
munitions, which is likely to be approved, the senior official said.

Last month, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said its 
researchers had uncovered evidence that Israel had fired cluster 
munitions on July 19 at the Lebanese village of Bilda, which the 
group said had killed one civilian and wounded at least 12 others, 
including 7 children. The group said it had interviewed survivors of 
the attack, who described incoming artillery shells dispensing 
hundreds of cluster submunitions on the village.

Human Rights Watch also released photographs, taken recently by its 
researchers in northern Israel, of what it said were 
American-supplied artillery shells that had markings showing they 
carried cluster munitions.

Mr. Siegel, the Israeli Embassy spokesman, denied that cluster 
munitions had been used on the village.

The United States Army also employs the M-26 rocket and the Multiple 
Launch Rocket System in combat, and the Pentagon has sold the weapon 
to numerous other allies, in addition to Israel. The system is 
especially effective at attacking enemy artillery sites, military 
experts say, because the rockets can be quickly targeted against a 
defined geographic area. Each rocket contains 644 submunitions that 
kill enemy soldiers operating artillery in the area.

But Human Rights Watch and other groups have campaigned for the 
elimination of cluster munitions, noting that even if civilians are 
not present when the weapons is used, some submunitions that do not 
detonate on impact can later injure or kill civilians.

The M-26 "is a particularly deadly weapon," Bonnie Docherty, a 
researcher with Human Rights Watch, who helped write a study of the 
United States' use of the weapons in the 2003 Iraq invasion. "They 
were used widely by U.S. forces in Iraq and caused hundreds of 
civilian casualties."

After the Reagan administration determined in 1982 that the cluster 
munitions had been used by Israel against civilian areas, the 
delivery of the artillery shells containing the munitions to Israel 
was suspended.

Israel was found to have violated a 1976 agreement with the United 
States in which it had agreed only to use cluster munitions against 
Arab armies and against clearly defined military targets. The 
moratorium on selling Israel cluster weapons was later lifted by the 
Reagan administration.

This week, State Department officials were studying records of what 
happened in 1982 as part of their internal deliberations into whether 
to grant approval for the sale to go forward.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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