Israel’s New Arsenal

Tents set on top of the destroyed buildings in Majd el Silim village, Lebanon, 18 October 2006. (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

What bizarre science-fiction horrors have to occur before the American media wakes up to the strange war that Israel is prosecuting against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians? People are still being maimed or killed every day in Lebanon thanks to unexploded cluster ordinance dropped massively by Israel in the 48 hours after a cease-fire had been negotiated but before it went into effect. Over 30 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in October alone. As usual, however, Lebanon and Palestine have vanished from the newscycle (where Israel is currently represented by a president who refuses to step down despite an all-but-indictment for multiple rape charges and an openly fascist party joining the government ). But there has been a steady drumbeat of revelations, largely in the Israeli and British media, ignored entirely by the American media, about Israel’s use of horrifying new weapons on civilian populations.

First came Italian television’s Rai24News October 11 report on “inexplicable wounds and new weapons” in Gaza. Alongside a piece by Meron Rapoport in Ha’aretz, it details the growing evidence from Palestinian hospitals that Israel is testing a “dense inert metal explosive” (DIME) device in Gaza. It was followed a week later by an investigation in the British Guardian.

All three investigations feature doctors explaining horrific and mysterious new wounds appearing in Gaza hospitals after Israeli drone attacks:

“Bodies arrived severely fragmented, melted and disfigured,” said Jumaa Saqa’a, a doctor at Shifa hospital, the main casualty hospital in Gaza City. “We found internal burning of organs, while externally there were minute pieces of shrapnel. When we opened many of the injured people we found dusting on the internal organs.” …

“You have complete burns that lead to amputation. You find shrapnel entering the body and leaving very, very small holes. We have never seen this before,” said Khalid Radi, a spokesman at the health ministry.

Research on DIME weapons in the United States found that the tungsten fragments used in the bombs caused 92 out of 92 rats in a test to develop cancerous tumors (that’s 100 percent for those of you following along at home). The Israeli army denies using DIME weapons with its standard claptrap:

Due to operational reasons, the IDF cannot specify the types and use of weapons in its possession. In addition it should be emphasized that the IDF only uses weapons in accordance with the international law.

Of course, new weapons that are still experimental aren’t yet banned under international law. And the weight of Israeli denials is light. For anyone following the news longer than a brief media spin cycle should remember that mere months ago the Lebanese government accused Israel of dropping cluster bombs and using white phosphorous explosives against civilians. Bonus: the Italian team that uncovered the weapons experimentation in Gaza was the same team that uncovered that the U.S. Army had similarly used phosphorous weapons against civillians in Iraq, then denied it. And indeed, when being questioned by the Israeli Knesset over the DIME allegations in Gaza, the Israeli army admitted it had, indeed, been using white phosphorous—a horrific chemical weapon of mass destruction that causes wounds to burn when exposed to air—on Lebanese civilians despite initial denials.

“Any weapon that is not exact should not be used in areas where civilians can suffer. Phosphorous and clusters in some cases can be considered legal,” Shabtai Gold, the spokesman for Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, told me. “The problem is that civilians are suffering, especially from the later, as they continue to blow up and harm civilians even after the fighting is over.”

On top of all that, new allegations have come out that Israel used radioactive uranium explosives, also experimental, in an attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon. Soil samples processed by scientists studying the ecological impact of Israel’s war against Lebanon found inexplicable radiation levels and the presence of uranium-235. The Israeli army again issued a non-denial, saying only that “All the arms and ammunition that we use are legal and conform to international laws.”

Robert Fisk, one of the most experienced English-language reporters in the Middle East, offers the historical perspective and comments that this is neither the first time that Israel has lied about its weapons nor the first time it has used Lebanese civilians as live guinea pigs for its weapons:

Israel has a poor reputation for telling the truth about its use of weapons in Lebanon. In 1982, it denied using phosphorous munitions on civilian areas—until journalists discovered dying and dead civilians whose wounds caught fire when exposed to air.

I saw two dead babies who, when taken from a mortuary drawer in West Beirut during the Israeli siege of the city, suddenly burst back into flames. Israel officially denied using phosphorous again in Lebanon during the summer—except for “marking” targets—even after civilians were photographed in Lebanese hospitals with burn wounds consistent with phosphorous munitions.

I asked Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian-American journalist … to help me understand the context of Israel’s use of experimental weapons on civilian populations and how it gets away with it.

I asked Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian-American journalist (and author of the new book One Country: A Bold Proposal To End The Israeli-Palestinian Impasse) to help me understand the context of Israel’s use of experimental weapons on civilian populations and how it gets away with it.

“Lying is routine procedure for the Israeli army,” he said. “Since the beginning of Intifada in excess of 4,000 Palestinians have been killed. Whenever a Palestinian is killed the Israelis say they were somehow causing a threat to Israel—but almost none of those deaths are investigated. In the rare cases where they are investigated they usually involve foreigners, like Tom Hurndall or Rachel Corrie, and when they are investigated the initial Israeli claims almost always turns out to be a lie.”

I asked him whether he thought Israel was being held to “unfair” standards compared to other countries, and he pointed out that when Austria allowed Jorg Haider’s freedom party to join its government, it faced diplomatic “sanctions” from the European Union, while not a peep has been raised about Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party.

“Look at the extreme example of Iraq,” he said. “In 2003 Iraq was invaded and occupied because of the use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians. Leaving the invasion and occupation aside, the U.N. imposed the most stringent sanctions it could for decades on Iraq, which starved hundreds of thousands ostensibly to make Iraq comply with international laws.”

My final question for him was the one I had been wrestling with myself: What conceivable reason could Israel have for using such tactics, clearly in violation of the Geneva conventions and international law, which require that the utmost care be used to protect civilians?

“I don’t know, because I can’t enter into the minds of such people, obviously. It’s all beyond comprehension,” he replied. “But one reason might be that the goal is to terrorize the population. By terrorizing them they hope to convince them to submit. Israel knows nothing it has done so far is getting people to submit. I’m speculating that reports of these new exotic and horrifying weapons will spread and have a terrorizing effect. That’s consistent with Israel’s statements that it bombards Gaza to convince the civilian population to remove their leadership.”

Using weapons of mass destruction in attempt to convince civilian targets to change governments or political goals?

Hezbollah and al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad, of course, also do terrible things and comment acts of terror. But as Abunimah and others have pointed out, they don’t do it with weapons not sold to the Israeli government but actually given them, in the form of $2.3 billion in U.S. taxpayer money that goes to outright grants of military aid to Israel—of which, by law, 74 percent must be spent right back on U.S.-manufactured arms.

The U.S. Arms Export Control Law expressly requires military items transferred to foreign governments by the United States be used solely for internal security and legitimate self-defense.

Is that really what’s going on? Is anyone even asking whether our closest ally is violating U.S. law in addition to international law?

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