Not to be outdone by the brutality of the U.S. Marines who used white phosphorus in Fallujah to burn out insurgents who resisted their assault on the city, Israel has decided to jump on the band wagon of nations that use virtually any weapon (excluding possibly nuclear weapons–for now) that will guarantee them an effective kill.
Evidence already points to the IDF’s use of DIME tungsten munitions which cause dismemberment and savage burns which penetrate to the internal organs. It is so experimental that no international law has ever yet considered the question of whether it should be outlawed (which it certainly should).
Now, an Israeli minister admits that the IDF used white phosphorus (WP) against Hezbollah in Lebanon:
Israel has acknowledged for the first time that it attacked Hezbollah targets during the second Lebanon war with phosphorus shells. White phosphorus causes very painful and often lethal chemical burns…and until recently Israel maintained that it only uses such bombs to mark targets or territory.
The announcement that the Israel Defense Forces had used phosphorus bombs in the war in Lebanon was made by Minister Jacob Edery, in charge of government-Knesset relations. He had been queried on the matter by MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad).
“The IDF made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hezbollah in attacks against military targets in open ground,” Edery said.
Here’s what Danny Mayer wrote about WP in Zmag:
During the battle of Fallujah in November 2004, the United States used white phosphorus in “shake and bake” missions to flush out insurgent positions. Such use potentially violates the Geneva Convention on Biological and Chemical Weapons of 1980 banning the use of incendiary weapons in civilian areas.
Let’s compare that to the minister’s defense of the use of white phosphorus:
Edery also pointed out that international law does not forbid the use of phosphorus and that “the IDF used this type of munitions according to the rules of international law.”
This statement, depending on the exact circumstances under which the IDF used the weapon, could be a lie, but it is certainly disingenuous. The key phrase in his statement is “open ground.” He’s trying to distinguish between the use of WP in civilian areas and its use away from such areas. The former is patently illegal under the Geneva Conventions. The latter may not be.
So should we believe Edery’s claim that Israel did not use the weapons near civilians?
Edery did not specify where and against what types of targets phosphorus munitions were used. During the war several foreign media outlets reported that Lebanese civilians carried injuries characteristic of attacks with phosphorus, a substance that burns when it comes [in]to contact with air. In one CNN report, a casualty with serious burns was seen lying in a South Lebanon hospital.
In another case, Dr. Hussein Hamud al-Shel, who works at Dar al-Amal hospital in Ba’albek, said that he had received three corpses “entirely shriveled with black-green skin,” a phenomenon characteristic of phosphorus injuries.
When an Israeli government spokesperson makes a claim such as the one Edery made, I automatically suspect it unless he provides authentication or proof. Given that there is evidence to the contrary, I find Edery’s statement to be untrustworthy.
In addition, Israel and the ultra-Israel crowd made a hue and cry about Hezbollah hiding and fighting in civilian areas and using civilians as human shields. If that is so, then how did the IDF find Hezbollah fighters who were fighting in “open ground?” Isn’t it a coincidence that when it’s convenient for Israel to claim Hezbollah fought amid civilians you make that claim; but when it’s convenient for you to claim that it fought in “open ground” then, voila, you make the opposite claim.
Haaretz claims that Edery’s characterization of white phosphorus as permitted under international law is flat out wrong:
During recent decades the tendency has been to ban the use of phosphorus munitions against any target, civilian or military, because of the severity of the injuries that the substance causes.
Some experts believe that phosphorus munitions should be termed Chemical Weapons (CW) because of the way the weapons burn and attack the respiratory system. As a CW, phosphorus would become a clearly illegal weapon.
The International Red Cross is of the opinion that there should be a complete ban on phosphorus being used against human beings and the third protocol of the Geneva Convention on Conventional Weapons restricts the use of “incendiary weapons,” with phosphorus considered to be one such weapon.
Israel and the United States are not signatories to the Third Protocol.
It appears that Haaretz might’ve been a bit sloppy in this passage as I’ve gone back and read Protocol III. One of the salient passages is this:
It is further prohibited to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by means of incendiary weapons, except when such military objective is clearly separated from the concentration of civilians and all feasible precautions are taken with a view to limiting the incendiary effects to the military objective and to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.
While Zmag’s characterization of the protocol appears more accurate, it is also clear that it places the onus on the user of WP to ensure to a high degree that it has done everything possible to guarantee that civilians are unlikely to be injured. Anyone who follows the IDF’s targeting policies realizes that it pays lip service, if that, to respecting civilian targets. So the idea that the IDF really gave a shit about Lebanese civilians when it dropped those WP bombs is highly improbable. Just look at how the IDF treated the entire Lebanese civilian population during the war. It made absolutely no distinction between civilians and militants in its bombing campaign. Why should it make a distinction regarding white phosphorus?
There is also a corollary discussion about whether WP should be banned outright under a separate section of the Geneva Conventions:
There is a…debate on whether white phosphorus should be considered a chemical weapon and thus be outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which went into effect in April of 1997. The convention is meant to prohibit weapons that are “dependent on the use of the toxic properties of chemicals as a method of warfare” (Article II, Definitions, 9, “Purposes not Prohibited” c.). The convention defines a “toxic chemical” as a chemical “which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals”.(CWC, II)
Since the issue has not yet formally been adjudicated under international law, WP has not yet formally been banned under CWC. Let us hope that it will be sooner rather than later.
And lest anyone minimize the severity of white phosphorus as a weapon, just consider this statement in which ZMag quotes:
A U.S. serviceperson, at the height of the Vietnam War, remarked, “We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn’t so hot—if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene—now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But then if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willy Peter so’s to make it burn better. It’ll even burn under water now. And one drop is enough; it’ll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.”
Our Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea would be proud to know that their latter day nation was upholding the rigorous standards of ethics and morality which they bestowed to us in their sacred books.