IDF debates use of white phosphorus shells

There is ongoing discussion within the army as to whether the shells should be used in a future operations in Gaza.

Gazans run for cover during Operation Cast Lead R 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
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 Strip.
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 civilians.”
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 Israel.
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.
Several 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.
A 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 in Gaza.