Buried in a recent New York Times article about Israel's request that the United States speed the delivery of rockets armed with cluster munitions is information about Human Rights Watch's recent accusation that Israel fired cluster munitions on July 19th in Lebanon. I've also included some portions of the article that discuss the humanitarian concerns assocated with the use of cluster munitions.
From the article:
The request for M-26 artillery rockets, which are fired in barrages and carry hundreds of grenade-like bomblets that scatter and explode over a broad area, is likely to be approved shortly, along with other arms, a senior official said.
But some State Department officials have sought to delay the approval because of concerns over the likelihood of civilian casualties, and the diplomatic repercussions. The rockets, while they would be very effective against hidden missile launchers, officials say, are fired by the dozen and could be expected to cause civilian casualties if used against targets in populated areas.
Israel has long told American officials that it wanted M-26 rockets for use against conventional armies in case Israel was invaded, one of the American officials said. But after being pressed in recent days on what they intended to use the weapons for, Israeli officials disclosed that they planned to use them against rocket sites in Lebanon. It was this prospect that raised the intense concerns over civilian casualties.
During much of the 1980’s, the United States maintained a moratorium on selling cluster munitions to Israel, following disclosures that civilians in Lebanon had been killed with the weapons during the 1982 Israeli invasion. But the moratorium was lifted late in the Reagan administration, and since then, the United States has sold Israel some types of cluster munitions, the senior official said.
Last month, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said its researchers had uncovered evidence that Israel had fired cluster munitions on July 19 at the Lebanese village of Bilda, which the group said had killed one civilian and wounded at least 12 others, including 7 children. The group said it had interviewed survivors of the attack, who described incoming artillery shells dispensing hundreds of cluster submunitions on the village.
Human Rights Watch also released photographs, taken recently by its researchers in northern Israel, of what it said were American-supplied artillery shells that had markings showing they carried cluster munitions.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have campaigned for the elimination of cluster munitions, noting that even if civilians are not present when the weapons is used, some submunitions that do not detonate on impact can later injure or kill civilians.
The M-26 “is a particularly deadly weapon,” Bonnie Docherty, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who helped write a study of the United States’ use of the weapons in the 2003 Iraq invasion. “They were used widely by U.S. forces in Iraq and caused hundreds of civilian casualties.”
After the Reagan administration determined in 1982 that the cluster munitions had been used by Israel against civilian areas, the delivery of the artillery shells containing the munitions to Israel was suspended.
Israel was found to have violated a 1976 agreement with the United States in which it had agreed only to use cluster munitions against Arab armies and against clearly defined military targets. The moratorium on selling Israel cluster weapons was later lifted by the Reagan administration.
This week, State Department officials were studying records of what happened in 1982 as part of their internal deliberations into whether to grant approval for the sale to go forward.
For the sake of human rights, lets hope that the U.S. decides not to ship these weapons to Israel, a country who has, as noted above, a historical record of using cluster munitions in civilian areas.