Gazans run for cover during Operation Cast Lead R 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A debate is raging within the IDF over whether the military should use artillery
shells, which contain white phosphorus, in a future operation in the Gaza
During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009, the IDF fired a number
of 155 mm shells – called M825A1 – which are used to provide a smokescreen for
troop movements or to mark targets.
The shell is made in the United
States and is approved for use by NATO.
Unlike phosphorus bombs which
land and explode, the M825A1 shell explodes in midair and distributes 116 felt
wedges saturated in white phosphorus. The wedges then fall to the ground and
continue to provide smoke for forces maneuvering nearby.
Images of the
exploding shells – appearing like a white octopus – featured widely in the press
during Operation Cast Lead and it took the IDF days before it confirmed that it
was using shells that contain white phosphorus in Gaza.
In the Israeli
government report on Cast Lead released in late 2009, it confirmed that the IDF
used shells which contained white phosphorus and argued that they were used “in
a manner corresponding with its duty to minimize the risk to
While the shell’s use is said to be critical in assisting
ground operations in urban terrain like Gaza and Lebanon, there is an ongoing
debate within the IDF whether it should be used in a future operation in Gaza
due to the potential public relations damage it could cause
Earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post
revealed that the IDF
General Staff had instructed the Southern Command to complete preparations for a
large-scale operation in Gaza within the coming months.
“There is no
question that the use of the shell caused Israel’s image unbelievable damage,
since a number of NGOs claimed that its use was a war crime,” one defense
official said this week.
Israel has argued that use of the shell was in
line with international law and that since it was not a traditional white
phosphorus incendiary weapon it could be used in populated areas.
months ago, attorney Michael Sfard petitioned the High Court of Justice asking
that it forbid the use of such shells in places like the Gaza Strip.
hearing has been scheduled for December, but in November the IDF responded to
the petition and said that Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen.
Yair Naveh has
already ordered that the use of such shells be minimized in a future operation