The Israeli military has found that it did not violate international law when it used cluster bombs while fighting Hizbullah in Lebanon last summer, despite fierce international condemnation of its decision to drop the ordnance in and near populated civilian areas.
The Associated Press reports that the Military Advocate General of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced Monday that it found no violations of international law during its investigation into the use of cluster bombs during the Israel-Hizbullah war in the summer of 2006.
In a statement, the army said its chief investigator, Maj. Gen. Gershon HaCohen, determined "it was clear that the majority of the cluster munitions were fired at open and uninhabited areas, areas from which Hezbollah forces operated and in which no civilians were present."
It said cluster bombs were fired at residential areas only "as an immediate defense response to rocket attacks by Hezbollah" and that Israeli troops did everything possible to minimize civilian casualties.
"The use of this weaponry was legal once it was determined that, in order to prevent rocket fire onto Israel, its use was a concrete military necessity," the statement said.
Israel faced harsh criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups for its use of cluster bombs in and near populated areas in Lebanon. The British Broadcasting Corp. writes that the UN called Israel's use of the bombs in the last 72 hours of the war, when it was clear a cease-fire was imminent, "shocking and immoral."
Cluster bombs frequently do not detonate on impact, effectively turning them into land mines that threaten civilians long after their original deployment. The IDF's investigation into its use of cluster bombs began shortly after the fighting ended in 2006.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Judge Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avihai Mandelblit, who announced the IDF's findings, said that the use of cluster bombs was "a concrete military necessity" in order to stop Hizbullah rockets from being fired into Israel.
Mandelblit's report rejected the accusation that the IDF committed war crimes and claimed that Hizbullah's use of forestry areas left the Israeli military with no choice but to use weaponry, like cluster bombs, which provide maximum coverage within the targeted area.
Mandelblit further found that cluster bombs were fired in accordance with the military principle of distinction between combatants and civilians, and were used only when the commanding officer determined that the potential damage to civilians, as well as infrastructure, was not disproportionate to the military advantage to be gained from firing cluster bombs.
Israeli daily Haaretz writes that Israel promised the United States, which sold it the cluster bombs, that it would not use them in populated areas, and that the IDF commander during the war, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, issued orders to that effect to the IDF forces fighting Hizbullah. But the investigation found that those orders were not always followed.
The IDF used three main types of cluster munitions in the war: those dropped through air force bombs; others fired through artillery; and in rockets fired by the Multiple Launch Rocket System.
... During the IDF investigation it emerged that the air force did not violate the instructions, but the artillery and rocket batteries, commanded by the Northern Command officers, did fire into populated areas.
Most of the ammunition was used to target fields near populated areas, where Hezbollah was known to have bunkers and other positions used to launch [Katyusha rockets]. However, in some instances, the batteries also fired into populated areas, contrary to Halutz's orders.
The IDF's announcement was lambasted as a political move by a Lebanese government official, AP reports. "The Israeli decision indicates that there is no difference between the judicial authority and political authority in Israel. They all work to commit and cover up crimes which are against humanity," the official told AP.
An editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer similarly condemned the IDF's findings, saying that cluster bombs are "still not OK."
This isn't a morally ambiguous issue. The use of these bombs, which in effect linger on as landmines and continue killing long after wars are over, is wrong, and Israel was wrong to use them when the end of the war was imminent. Its military might not be able to see that, but the rest of the world can.
The editorial notes that just last week a Lebanese man was killed by a cluster bomb as he was out collecting firewood.
Additionally, an international conference was held earlier this month to try and establish a ban on cluster bombs, though Associated Press writes that "the meeting was marred by disagreements over how to define the deadly devices and how broad to make a ban, as well as by the absence of key producers and stockpilers — the United States, Russia, China and Israel."