Hat tip to Sol Salbe for turning me on to the following story by Haaretz’s Meron Rapoport.
Forget about Israel being a “light unto the nations” as the seminal early Zionist thinker Ahad HaAm used to say. Think more like Nazi Germany and the Spanish Civil War. Besides an ideological affinity between Franco’s fascists and Hitler, the Fuhrer found that conflict a perfect testing ground for Germany’s new weapons technology. During the Civil War, the Luftwaffe first previewed the new technique of aerial bombardment to devastating effect in places like Guernica. Hitler and Goering got to test all of their new playtoys like the Messerschmitts, Junkers, and anti-tank cannons.
It seems that Israel has been using Gazans in precisely the same way since its invasion following the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. The weapon it has tested, known by the acronym DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive), works to horrifying effect:
An investigative report to be aired on Italian television Wednesday raises the possibility that Israel has used an experimental weapon in the Gaza Strip in recent months, causing especially serious physical injuries, such as amputated limbs and severe burns.
Just to be clear about my analogy above (for the sake of the Little Green Footballs harpies among my readers), I did not intend to say that Israel as a whole is like Franco’s Spain or the U.S. like Nazi Germany. I merely meant to make an analogy to the ways in which this particular weapon was developed and possibly “lent out” to the IDF for experimental purposes.
The weapon is similar to one developed by the U.S. military, known as DIME, which causes a powerful and lethal blast, but only within a relatively small radius…
The investigation, by Rai24news, follows reports by Gaza-based doctors of inexplicably serious injuries. The doctors reported an exceptionally large number of wounded who lost legs, of completely burned bodies and injuries unaccompanied by metal shrapnel. Some of the doctors also claimed that they removed particles from wounds that could not be seen in an x-ray machine.
Dr. Habas al-Wahid, head of the emergency room at the Shuhada al-Aqsa hospital, in Deir el-Balah, told the reporters that the legs of the injured were sliced from their bodies “as if a saw was used to cut through the bone.” There were signs of heat and burns near the point of the amputation, but no signs that the dismemberment was caused by metal fragments.
Dr. Juma Saka, of Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City, said the doctors found small entry wounds on the bodies of the wounded and the dead. According to Saka, a powder was found on the victims’ bodies and in their internal organs.
Haaretz quotes U.S. military websites which describe DIME and how it works:
According to the official website of a U.S. air force laboratory, it is a “focused lethality” weapon, which aims to accurately destroy the target while causing minimum damage to the surrounding.
According to the site, the projectile comprises a carbon-fiber casing filled with tungsten powder and explosives. In the explosion, tungsten particles – a metal capable of conducting very high temperatures – spread over a radius of four meters [12 feet] and cause death.
According to the U.S.-based website Defense-Tech, “the result is an incredibly destructive blast in a small area” and “the destructive power of the mixture causes far more damage than pure explosive.” It adds that “the impact of the micro-shrapnel seems to cause a similar but more powerful effect than a shockwave.”
Defense Tech specifies a much larger kill zone:
In the case of the SDB [Small Diameter Bomb], that gives a destructive radius of about 25 feet.
So from a purely layperson’s perspective, this weapon seems designed to kill anything within a 12-25 foot radius (depending on which source you believe) and not kill anything outside it. But unlike other more conventional weapons with less lethality, it would essentially leave almost nothing or no one alive within that sphere.
If I understand it correctly, the tungsten fibers act with such savage penetrating force they become, in effect, circular saws which sever limbs from the body. The Defense Tech site calls them “micro-shrapnel.” Is this beyond ghoulish or what? Israel has already committed violence worthy of war crimes in Lebanon this summer. It appears that it also wishes the world to see it as the Frankenstein monster of military technology. If this doesn’t add a Frankenstein factor, I don’t know what will:
It is believed that the weapon is highly carcinogenic and harmful to the environment.
This passage refers to this Defense Tech article: Cancer Worries for New U.S. Bombs:
In a study designed to simulate shrapnel injuries, pellets of weapons-grade tungsten alloy were implanted in 92 rats. Within five months all the animals [T.O.-emphasis mine] developed a rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma
I do hope that the Gazan DIME victims and their doctors realize that they are at extremely high risk for developing cancer. So there you have it: a weapon designed to kill more efficiently which inadvertently becomes an environmental disaster for anyone unluckly enough to have been innocent and struck by it. Do you think the IDF will be offering free medical treatment to the Gazans who develop cancer due to this odious weapon?
A University of Arizona cancer researcher had this to say about the cancer risk:
“My opinion is that there needs to be much more research on the health effects of tungsten before the military increases its usage.”
You can see why it’s so attractive for the Air Force to farm out this weapon to Israel which has no compunction about causing a few cancer cases among Palestinians. The IAF doesn’t need to wait for “more research on the health effects” of DIME. “Bombs away” is their motto.
Given what we’ve come to expect from IDF spokespeople I half expected to hear them call DIME a “humanitarian weapon” because it supposedly doesn’t kill indiscriminately, but rather kills a specific target in a small geographic area. You can bet your bottom dollar you’re eventually going to hear DIME called a precision or targeted munition. And the IDF will tout its new ability to kill better and cleaner.
I’d also have thought that the IDF would flat out deny use of the new weapon especially since it’s apparently based on a U.S. designed munition. One would think Israel would like to keep such stuff hush-hush. Apparently not:
Israel Air Force Maj.-Gen (res.) Yitzhak Ben-Israel, formerly head of the IDF’s weapons-development program, told the Italian reporters that “one of the ideas [behind the weapon] is to allow those targeted to be hit without causing damage to bystanders or other persons.”
…Ben-Israel told the Italian reporters that “this is a technology that allows the striking of very small targets.”
In some small way, the IDF has validated my analogy between Gaza and Franco’s Spain with this statement made during the Lebanon war:
“This [the Lebanon war] is more like the Spanish Civil War,” says Daniel Seaman, an Israeli government spokesman. “What we are seeing is a series of conflicts that foreshadow a future world conflict, just as the Spanish Civil war prefigured
the Second World War.”
And if the killing fields of Gaza and Lebanon are like pre-WWII Spain, why not use the natives as guinea pigs to test out weapons we’ll be using in that “future world conflict?”
The new weapon is so advanced that international law doesn’t appear to know what to make of it:
The report says that the weapon is not banned by international law, especially since it has not been officially tested.
One wonders what role or connection the U.S. military plays in all this. Did the IDF get the technology from the U.S.? Did it develop the weapon separately from the U.S.? Did, perhaps, the U.S. use the IDF in precisely the same way as Hitler used Franco’s soldiers–to test new weapons which it cannot yet test in battlefield conditions?
Happily for the U.S. military, Israel does not feel bound by the same moral constraints that sometimes (though much more rarely now) bind our forces. Therefore, it would’ve been oh so convenient for Rummy’s guys to test this thing out on Gazan guinea pigs. After all, what’s the blood of a few lowly Palestinians worth these days?
If this were southern Lebanon, Nasrallah could launch a few missiles against Israel to make it pay a price for such egregious disrespect of Arab lives. But as it is, Palestinian rocketeers have weapons little better than glorified slingshots compared to DIME. They cannot exact much of a price for Israel’s depredations against the Palestinian people.
Reading this passage from a Navy League of the U.S. website, one sees that DIME was practically designed with densely-packed urban Gaza in mind:
Under a project titled Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME), Dahlgren scientists are studying the effects of adding dense metallic particles, such as tungsten, to a high-explosive chemical mixture. According to tests performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the detonation of such a mixture shows increased deadly effects at a slightly greater range from the center of blast, contrasted with conventional explosives. But the DIME mixture’s lethality falls sharply a short range from the blast center, reducing the chance of destroying something other than the intended target.
The DIME concept is particularly interesting to the Navy for use in urban areas. Cook explains: “a normal blast-frag warhead has high-explosive putting fragments out. You get a high probability of kill, but it lasts for quite a distance. That means that if you were to drop a blast-frag weapon in the middle of a city block you would be doing a lot of damage in an urban area,” which is not always the effect U.S. forces want to achieve. With DIME, the blast effect equals that of a blast-fragment weapon, but the chances of collateral damage appear to be substantially less, said Cook.
If you read the military-oriented websites discussing DIME you note that none of them talk about the effect of the impact on the intended victim. They all tout the weapon’s greater precision and lower lethality at longer distances. That seems a perfect illustration of the military mind which hardly thinks of its victims except in terms of how to kill them more efficiently.
Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch’s resident bomb blast expert, points out that the Army’s intention of reducing casualties may be precisely negated by using DIME in urban areas:
While Human Rights Watch is supportive of the US military’s commitment to reducing civilian casualties, collateral damage as they call it, it is unfortunate that these weapons are being developed specifically for use in densely populated areas which may negate the intended effect.
If you’re trying to kill a bad guy in an urban setting, does the IDF not realize that innocent bystanders will be highly likely within the 12-25 kill zone? And if the weapon provides for increased lethality within that zone might it not be possible that you would kill more, rather than less innocents by using it in the most densely packed urban environment on earth, Gaza? And the testimony by Gaza doctors of the wounds which the new Israeli munition caused seem to bear this out. Unless of course every single victim brought to their hospitals was a Palestinian bad guy.
The Wall Street Journal touts DIME enthusiastically (natch!) in one of its columns.
If there are any Italian readers among those reading this post who could find the link at the Rai site and provide me a fuller account of this report I’d be grateful.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.