August 25, 2006

Cluster Bomb Inquiry?

According to the New York Times, the United States has initiated an investigation into the use of cluster bombs in South Lebanon during the recent Israeli War against Hezbollah terrorists:

The State Department is investigating whether Israel's use of American-made cluster bombs in southern Lebanon violated secret agreements with the United States that restrict when it can employ such weapons, two officials said.

The investigation by the department's Office of Defense Trade Controls began this week, after reports that three types of American cluster munitions, anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area, have been found in many areas of southern Lebanon and were responsible for civilian casualties.

For those of you that might not be familiar with the concept of cluster munitions, they different than more traditional explosives in that instead of relying on one large explosive projectile or multiple large explosive projectiles to destroy a target, they deploy a shell or bomb containing many smaller grenade-like bombs (submunitions) over a wider area, saturating a larger area with one cluster munition, theoretically decreasing the number of large explosives needed to take out an area target, such as a troop concentration, or in this instance most likely in the Israeli campaign against Hezbollah, rocket-launching sites. It may be simpler to compare it to the difference between using a rifle and a shotgun.

The recognized downside of cluster munitions are two-fold:

  • cluster munitions are designed as area weapons, and are not capable of a pin-point strike to their wide dispersal
  • the submunitions in traditional cluster bombs have a failure rate of between 2%-4% according to my subject matter expert, John Donovan. this means that between 2% and 4% of the submunitions fail to explode, essentially "mining" the area struck with unexploded ordinance

This does not mean cluster bombs are "bad" any more than any other physical object can be "good" or "bad," but knowing the characteristics of such weapons prescribes how they should be used.

It is generally accepted conventional wisdom that cluster munitions are acceptable area munitions against area targets such as troop and enemy vehicle or supply concentrations and certain kinds of entrenched positions. They are recognized as being dangerous to use in areas where civilians may fall victim to the immediate widespread blast pattern, or may return to encounter unexploded submunitions before engineering units can dispose of them. It is also not advisable to use cluster munitions in areas where you expect that your own troops may advance, as these same submunitions could cause casualties to friendly troops.

It is worth noting that no munition of any design is "dud-proof," but cluster munitions are more prone to fail to detonate simply because they require a larger number of separate charges to work, and some more modern cluster submunitions are designed to self destruct to reduce risk to civilian and soldier alike.

Back to the Times article:

The inquiry is likely to focus on whether Israel properly informed the United States about its use of the weapons and whether targets were strictly military. So far, the State Department is relying on reports from United Nations personnel and nongovernmental organizations in southern Lebanon, the officials said.

David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, said, “We have not been informed about any such inquiry, and when we are we would be happy to respond.”

Officials were granted anonymity to discuss the investigation because it involves sensitive diplomatic issues and agreements that have been kept secret for years.

The agreements that govern Israel's use of American cluster munitions go back to the 1970's, when the first sales of the weapons occurred, but the details of them have never been publicly confirmed. The first one was signed in 1976 and later reaffirmed in 1978 after an Israeli incursion into Lebanon. News accounts over the years have said that they require that the munitions be used only against organized Arab armies and clearly defined military targets under conditions similar to the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973.

A Congressional investigation after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon found that Israel had used the weapons against civilian areas in violation of the agreements. In response, the Reagan administration imposed a six-year ban on further sales of cluster weapons to Israel.

Israeli officials acknowledged soon after their offensive began last month that they were using cluster munitions against rocket sites and other military targets. While Hezbollah positions were frequently hidden in civilian areas, Israeli officials said their intention was to use cluster bombs in open terrain.

The question seems to be precisely what the language of any such agreement would be, especially in how the agreement describes what constitutes "clearly defined military targets."

I'm merely pontificating here, but I suspect that if such an inquiry is underway, Israel will likely make the argument that a mobile missile launching platform constitutes a "clearly-defined military target." One could easily make a strong case that a mobile Katyusha rocket launcher away from a civilian concentration is a legitimate target, as shown in the this example from


This example of a short-range Qassam rocket firing site from apparently located in an orchard would also seem to be a valid target:


And at least some of the cluster munitions used by Israel in Lebanon seem to have been targeted at rural areas, as is the case of this unexploded M-42 submunition found in a banana grove near (but not in) the village of El Maalliye. If this banana grove was away from homes and the banana grove was being used as a site to launch rockets against Israel, the Israelis can likely make a case that the use of cluster munitions in this instance is acceptable.

This however, is much more difficult to justify. The munition is undoubtedly a cluster munition, and the site is said to be just 100 meters from the main Lebanese hospital in Tibnin. John Donovan identified this exact submunition as an M-42.

The Times article states further:

But a report released Wednesday by the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Center, which has personnel in Lebanon searching for unexploded ordnance, said it had found unexploded bomblets, including hundreds of American types, in 249 locations south of the Litani River.

The report said American munitions found included 559 M-42's, an anti-personnel bomblet used in 105-millimeter artillery shells; 663 M-77's, a submunition found in M-26 rockets; and 5 BLU-63's, a bomblet found in the CBU-26 cluster bomb. Also found were 608 M-85's, an Israeli-made submunition.

What the Times article does not state is precisely where 1,835 were found.

If the majority of these submunitions were found to be in locations consistent with what the agreement shows to be viable military targets, then Israel should be cleared fairly simply. If however, a substantial number of submunitions were recovered from villages and cities, then Israel's use of cluster munitions may have a legitimate basis to be called into question.

It is important to note, however, that at this time only United Nations personnel and nongovernmental organizations (perhaps Hezbollah itself) have raised these allegations.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at August 25, 2006 10:47 AM | TrackBack

It is also possible that an Improved Conventional Munition such as the M483 155mm projectile could have been used. The M483 also uses the M77 submunition. Check out this link for more detailed info:

Posted by: Wiskey-88 at August 25, 2006 11:28 AM

The sad thing is, that no matter whether or not it is proved that these were "valid military" targets, nobody will ever know - at least not the people who follow MSM. That's because they will never, ever report that Israel had the right to use these weapons.

Posted by: Specter at August 25, 2006 12:25 PM

FYI: The article is accompanied by a map which shows where the cluster bomb evidence has been found.....some of which is north of the Latani.

Posted by: Donna at August 25, 2006 01:11 PM

I am less concerned about the munitions Israel employed in countering the incessant onslaught of Hezbollah attacks than I am about the NYT YET AGAIN divulging US secrets. Is there no stopping the irresponsible reporting/behavior of the NYT short of using cluster munitions on them?

Posted by: Old Soldier at August 25, 2006 01:39 PM

One "human factors" issue not mentioned is that unexploded cluster munitions can be picked up and placed in another location without the bomblet ever exploding. Given the fauxtography going on in Lebanon, this wouldn't surprise me one bit.

Of course one must be careful in handling the buggers. One of my field engineers experienced one detonating after it was picked up by a companion in the first Gulf War and placed under his car seat. Alan got away with long term ringing in his ears, while the driver (who had picked it up) was killed.

Posted by: sammy small at August 25, 2006 03:39 PM

“This does not mean cluster bombs are “bad” any more than any other physical object can be “good” or “bad,” but knowing the characteristics of such weapons prescribes how they should be used.”

These weapons, which Israel has been dropping in civilian areas of Lebanon are bad objects. Man-made objects are created with intent, and the intent in this case is to kill or wound as many people as possible. This is a cowardly weapon, the type that is well suited to imperial wars, where the consideration of protecting soldiers outweighs any thought of preventing injury to civilians.

That Israel would use this kind of “shotgun” weapon in civilian areas shows how little regard it has for innocent life. And to justify it by saying Hezbollah is using civilians as “human shields” suggests even that civilians are being directly targeted. Shouldn’t a “rifle” approach be used instead of “shotgun” if you truly care about the civilian population?

And how ironic that you are trying to avenge suicide bombings which use shrapnel by killing other innocent civilians with shrapnel bombs.

Oh yes, these are bad objects and the blood is partially on our hands.

Posted by: Onray at August 25, 2006 11:43 PM

Do you think the Islamist and the DisUnited Nations will lie about where they find the cluster bombs? They will lie 100% and the gullible public will eat it up. I read today where they displayed one of the 'cluster' bombs which was accurately identified (not by the lying Islamist or PC news crowd) later as a battery.

How many more lies will he antique MSM have to tell, and get caught, before even the left wingers will admit that all they read and hear from the antique media types is 99% lies and 1% hype? Not enough lies can be broadcast or printed, as long as it fits their anti-American, anti-Israel rants.

Posted by: Scrapiron at August 25, 2006 11:56 PM