Israel condemned for cluster bomb use

US Senate fails to curb cluster bomb sales to Israel in vote of 30-70.

iaf strikes lebanon 298. (photo credit: Associated Press)
iaf strikes lebanon 298.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
While international bodies are looking into the use of cluster bombs by Israel during the Lebanon war, an effort in the US Senate to curb the use of these munitions was defeated Wednesday by a 70 to 30 vote. The initiative to prohibit the use and sale of cluster bombs by the US was put forward by Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick Leahy from Vermont. They attempted to attach a provision to the Pentagon budget, which would require the US, and the countries that it sells arms to, including Israel, to avoid using cluster bombs "in or near" civilian areas. According to the suggestion, the Pentagon would have to freeze all use or sale of cluster bombs until new rules are put in place regarding the use of these munitions in civilian areas. The issue of the use of cluster bombs began drawing renewed attention following the war between Israel and Hizbullah, in which Israel used cluster bombs in areas in which it believed rocket-launching Hizbullah fighters were hiding. Cluster bombs are munitions that break into dozens of "bomblets" as they near the target and thus are able to hit multiple enemy forces on the ground. Human rights groups have argued that the use of cluster bombs should be forbidden due to their heavy collateral damage and the fact that a significant percentage of the bomblets do not explode on contact and pose a threat for civilians returning after the fighting is over. The US reaction to these demands has been relatively moderate. Apart from the Feinstein - Leahy initiative that failed in Congress Wednesday, there were also attempts to get the administration to investigate Israel's use of the bombs during the war. The State Department announced two weeks ago that it would open an inquiry into the question whether Israel broke the rules of use set out by the US when it supplied Israel with the weapons. Meanwhile, there was no official word regarding the results of this inquiry, and Israeli officials said they have received no request for clarifications concerning the use of the bombs. Israel contends that the use of cluster bombs is in accordance with international law. A memorandum put out by the Israeli foreign ministry quotes a Human Rights Watch report stating that 56 countries have cluster bombs. Nine of them - including the US, Russia and Britain - have actually used them. The memorandum goes on to argue that while Hizbullah used civilian areas as launching sites against Israel, the IDF kept to the rule of not targeting civilians. "The IDF does not deliberately attack civilians and takes steps to minimize any incidental collateral harm by warning them in advance of an action, even at the expense of losing the element of surprise," the memo reads. "The IDF only uses weapons that are legal," The IDF Spokesperson's Office said in a statement. "All of the weapons and methods used by the IDF are permitted by international law." "The IDF refrains from purposely attacking innocent civilians and works to minimize the harm inflicted on those not involved in terror activity," the statement read. Most criticism against Israel on this issue is coming from international human rights groups and the UN. The UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland defined Israel's use of cluster bombs as "immoral" and called on the countries supplying Israel with the bombs to discuss their future sales of these arms to the Israeli army. The UN human rights council also passed a resolution forming a three-member committee to investigate allegations that Israel violated human rights during the war. The committee will look into the use of cluster bombs by Israel in civilian populations in Lebanon. The information triggering this investigation, as well as the call for the State Department to look into the issue, came from NGO's operating on the ground in Lebanon which reported that hundreds of bombs were found scattered all over the region. Pro-Israel activists in the US claim this information is not reliable and that the groups collecting the data are advocacy organizations, which have their own agenda opposing the use of cluster bombs. The president of Bnai Brith International Joel Kaplan and the executive vice president Daniel Mariaschin sent a letter to UN undersecretary Egeland in which they blame him of acting 'as an un-appointed moral arbiter with regard to disputed, unproven facts on the ground and the interpretation of international humanitarian law."