To the ever-expanding list of ghoulish weaponry Israel used in the Lebanon war, we have to add yet another: a uranium bomb. Robert Fisk reports that in two Lebanese sites bombed by Israel, researchers have discovered traces of a type of uranium used in bunker busting bombs:
…Scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium-based munitions may now also be included in Israel’s weapons inventory – and were used against targets in Lebanon. According to Dr Chris Busby, the British Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed “elevated radiation signatures”. Both have been forwarded for further examination to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire for mass spectrometry – used by the Ministry of Defence – which has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples.
Busby has several theories of what might’ve happened. The most likely one is:
The weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium.”
One reason enriched uranium might be of concern is because it is the most radioactive of all three forms of uranium.
Though there is no scientifically verifiable proof that uranium weapons of this type cause cancer, there is reason for concern:
American and British forces used hundreds of tons of depleted uranium (DU) shells in Iraq in 1991 – their hardened penetrator warheads manufactured from the waste products of the nuclear industry – and five years later, a plague of cancers emerged across the south of Iraq.
Initial US military assessments warned of grave consequences for public health if such weapons were used against armoured vehicles. But the US administration and the British government later went out of their way to belittle these claims. Yet the cancers continued to spread amid reports that civilians in Bosnia – where DU was also used by Nato aircraft – were suffering new forms of cancer. DU shells were again used in the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq…
Dr. Busby reinforces this concern by noting the ease with which radioactive particles can travel through the air:
“When a uranium penetrator hits a hard target, the particles of the explosion are very long-lived in the environment,” Dr Busby said yesterday. “They spread over long distances. They can be inhaled into the lungs. The military really seem to believe that this stuff is not as dangerous as it is.” Yet why would Israel use such a weapon when its targets – in the case of Khiam, for example – were only two miles from the Israeli border? The dust ignited by DU munitions can be blown across international borders…
“The health effects on local civilian populations following the use of large uranium penetrators and the large amounts of respirable uranium oxide particles in the atmosphere,” the Busby report says, “are likely to be significant…
An independent scientist not involved in the Lebanese research comments on the weapons:
Chris Bellamy, the professor of military science and doctrine at Cranfield University, who has reviewed the Busby report, said: “At worst it’s some sort of experimental weapon with an enriched uranium component the purpose of which we don’t yet know. At best – if you can say that – it shows a remarkably cavalier attitude to the use of nuclear waste products.”
The Israeli press has chronicled the Israeli government’s remarkably cavalier and incompetent relief efforts to help northern Israelis during the war. Some have likened it to the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina. The claim is that the Israeli government essentially absconded and left the field largely to non-profit relief agencies to provide many essential services. Can there be any more cynical abuse of a nation’s citizenry than when its government uses weapons that may very well kill its own citizens, if not now then down the road.
Fisk reports that uranium weapons have not been banned under international law because governments whose militaries use them (the U.S. foremost among them) argue that the deleterious health effects have not been proven scientifically. But isn’t it convenient that a country which wishes to use a noxious weapon should argue the it is not dangerous to civilians?
Professor Bellamy provides a deeper discussion of the scientific questions involved in this story.
UPDATE: Richard Gold of Engage, a supposedly non-partisan site which speaks out against anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, informs me that the UN Environment Program released a November 7th statement that in its sampling of 32 south Lebanon sites it did NOT find evidence of uranium-enriched munitions. This would appear to raise questions about the reliability of Fisk’s report. But we should keep in mind that the UNEP expeditions sampled 32 sites and the European Committee on Radiation Risk presumably sampled other sites. It is entirely possible that two separate groups sampling entirely separate sites might’ve found different evidence and come to different conclusions.
But before the ultra-rights start wagging fingers and jumping for joy they should know what else the release confirms:
The team also confirmed the use of white phosphorous-containing artillery and mortar ammunition by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF)…
UNEP agrees with the findings and conclusions of the mission of the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteurs (published 2 October 2006), which recognized the huge number of cluster bombs with a low detonation rate dropped by the IDF over the last days before the ceasefire as the main remaining problem to return to normal life in the affected regions.