Israel made a mistake when it used cluster bombs during the Second Lebanon War, deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh told the BBC in a documentary on last summer's war in Lebanon set to be broadcast on the Radio 4 network in the United Kingdom on Tuesday and internationally on the BBC world service and Web site later this week. Sneh became the first Israeli government representative to apologize for using cluster bombs, according to a transcript of the documentary obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post. "It was a mistake, it was a mistake," Sneh told interviewers Edward Stourton and Mark Savage. When they asked whether he regretted the use of cluster bombs because of the damage to Israel's image or because they "kill a lot of people," Sneh responded: "No, people are still losing their lives from time to time and we don't like it. But it was... it was a mistake."
The Second Lebanon War: JPost.com special report
When asked about the transcript, Sneh said he "was misunderstood by the reporters." He said he could not comment further because the use of cluster bombs was still being investigated by the IDF. But his spokesman said Sneh did not think the use of cluster bombs during the war was a mistake.
"He thinks they were used in specific instances when it was necessary," the spokesman said.
Israel initially denied using cluster bombs during the war, but later confirmed the findings of a US State Department investigation submitted to Congress on January 29 that alleged that they were used.
After American officials accused Israel of violating the terms of an agreement on when the bombs could be used, former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz formed a team to investigate the circumstances.
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon told the BBC that Israel assured the US that the cluster bombs would not be used in populated areas, but the IDF ran into a problem when Hizbullah operated primarily from those areas.
"It is true that we committed, when we received it from the United States, not to use it in populated areas, and we would never do that," Ayalon said. "Now the use here was only after we verified two things. First of all, that the areas we were shooting at - with these cluster bombs - were areas that had been taken by Hizbullah, number one; and secondly, after the civilians in these areas had been warned time and again to leave. So only under these conditions were the orders issued to use these cluster bombs and only after [we] realized how deeply Hizbullah was entrenched in and among populated Lebanese areas."
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 the heavy collateral damage that they cause, 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.
In the BBC documentary, UN officials accused Israel of dropping the bombs primarily during the last 48 hours of the war after a cease-fire had already been brokered in an attempt to prevent Hizbullah from returning to southern Lebanon. The officials said the victims ended up being not Hizbullah terrorists, but civilians who returned to their homes.
The first part of the documentary made news two weeks ago when former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton revealed that the US tried to delay a cease-fire until Israel had eliminated Hizbullah's military capability and that the US joined international efforts to end the conflict diplomatically only after it became clear that Israel's military efforts were not succeeding.
The documentary will be available on-line on Tuesday at www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/summer_war_lebanon.shtml.