September 2, 2006

US Prohibitions on Isreali Use of Cluster Bombs

Updated February 4, 2007

The US has sold cluster bombs to Israel since the 1970s, except for a six year period during the Regan Administration after the Congress determined that Israel had violated US prohibitions on their use.

Photo Credit and narrative, See Note [3]

The US State Department has recently launched an inquiry into Isreal's use of US made cluster bombs to determine if they have violated US prohibitions during their assault on Lebanon in July/August 2006.

What are the US prohibitions on Israel?

There are at least two US arms export frameworks, distinct from other internatinal laws, for which the US has direct oversight:

1) A secret bilateral agreement with Isreal that addresses cluster munitions specifically, and

2) The Arms Export Control Act, which requires foreign governments that receive American weapons to use them for legitimate self-defense.

The US State Department is responsible for oversight of both of these, with additional oversight from Congress on the second. [1]

With regard to (1), the secret agreement on cluster munitions likely addresses a) requirements for Israel to properly informed the United States about its use of the weapons, and b) limitations of use on strictly military targets. [2]

"News accounts over the years have said that [the bilateral agreement] require that the munitions be used only against organized Arab armies and clearly defined military targets under conditions similar to the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973." [2] This is supported by a report in Haaretz in which Israeli reserve soldiers expressed that they "were surprised by the use of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 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. [4]

In other words, because of the grave downsides of these weapons, their use seems to be limited to a scenario in which Israel risks being overrun by an invading force. If this characterization is correct, Israel's recent use of cluster munitions in civilian-populated villages is likely a violation of this secret bilateral agreement.

With regard to (2), the threshold question is whether or not the situation constituted "self-defense."

An honest analysis of the conflict must conclude that it was an aggressive war of choice by Israel, using Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers as an excuse. The integrity of Isreal to exist was not threatened, despite Hezbollah's Kytusha rocket attacks in response to Israel's assault on the Lebanese infrastructure. Only a very liberal view of "self-defense" envisioned in the US Arms Export Control Act could justify the use of cluster munitions in this case.

Critics of this view can argue shades of gray on whether or not Israel violated these prohibitions; however, given the terrible legacy caused by unexploded cluster munitions, the interpretation of compliance should not be liberal, but strict; operating in the grey zone should be considered a violation. In this technical view, and in any ethical view, Israel's current use of cluster munitions is clearly in the wrong.

Given a pattern of misuse of cluster munitions by Israel, the US should ban any further sales to Israel. For an article on Israel's recent use of cluster munitions on Lebanon SEE: Lebanon Damage: Indiscriminant Cluster Bombs


According to the January 30 headlines of DemocracyNow! "On January 29, 2007 State Department spokesperson Sean McCormick acknowledged that Israel likely violated US arms export agreements when it dropped cluster bombs among villages in Lebanon."

Marc Garlasco, of Human Rights Watch, continues, "As a comparison in the war in Iraq in 2003, the United States over three weeks dropped 2 million cluster sub-munitions. Israel in the war in Lebanon dropped 4 million in three days. It dwarfs any use of cluster bombs prior. You can take Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo and put them together and you’re not going to come close to what happened in southern Lebanon."


[1] "Under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and executive order, the Secretary of State is responsible for policy direction and oversight of all arms transfer functions, and for controlling commercial exports of defense articles and services on the U.S. Munitions List." Norman A Wulf, Acting Assistant Director of Nonproliferation and Regional Arms Control, February 24, 1994. Web LINK

[2] New York Times, David Cloud, August 26, 2006. Web LINK

[3] "The M-270 rocket launcher fires US-made M-26 rockets. Each rocket disperses 644 M-77 "bomblets" over an area roughly 350 feet by 650 feet. Each individual M-77 is essentially a small grenade. When deployed from a rocket, these bomblets can be devastating against light-skinned vehicles, such as trucks with mounted artillery rocket launchers, and absolutely deadly for troops out in the open. The rockets are generally fired in salvos and can ravage one-third of a square mile. The United States used the M-26 to great effect in the 1991 Gulf War. It is the ideal weapon to engage Hezbollah fighters firing artillery rockets. As soon as the Israelis detect the location from which Hezbollah has launched rockets, they can obliterate an area too big for the launcher or crew to flee.

Of course, the potential for civilian casualties is high. The M-26 is an indiscriminate weapon by design. The most enduring problem with such cluster munitions is that the entire batch does not always explode. Afghanistan and Iraq are both littered with tiny bomblets that -- to this day -- are maiming and killing civilians." Source: Stratfor: Web LINK

[4] Haaretz, Sept. 11, 2006Web LINK


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Anonymous said...

95% of the cluster bombs the zionists dropped on lebanon were drpoped in the last 3 days when israel KNEW there would be a ceasefire. pure evil.