28 December 2007

Israel: cluster bomb use was legal

This is the CNN headline. It is not absolutely precise, the JP headline is a bit different:

which is also not the whole story, because the first sentence in the JP article says:
Despite several cases during the Second Lebanon War when cluster bombs were not used within the guidelines set by the General Staff, Judge Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avihai Mandelblit has decided not to take any legal measures against commanders who deviated from those orders, the IDF announced on Monday.
So there were "several cases" that could have been, how to say it gently - not precisely legal.

No, I am not frivolously nitpicking. The whole story stinks to high heaven, and not for legal reasons. There is no international treaty that regulates use of the cluster bombs, even CNN agrees about it. HRW, of course, refer to something that they vaguely call "international humanitarian law", but let's leave it alone for a while.

The whole story, if we focus a bit on the past (it took only one year and a half for Brig.-Gen Mandelblit to reach his learned conclusion), relates to the last few days of the Lebanon war, when it was already clear that IDF will not be allowed to move deeper into Lebanese territory. The decision to start using cluster bombs with their imprecise guiding (the rockets that carry the cluster bombs are very similar to Katyushas and are launched from the Multiple Launch Rocket System) was not confirmed with then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who was livid when the story was reported to him. The military value of the act was nil or close to it, and the percentage of defective bomblets in the US-supplied rockets was known to be very high.

Legal reasons aside, this was a pure act of revenge by some frustrated officers, and of course the time that passed since and the change of the guard at the top did not facilitate carrying the military justice out.

So, law or no law, there are tens thousands of unexploded bomblets that (now I am speaking from personal experience) are a hell of a job to deal with. Of course, the CNN suggestion that "Nations are expected to clean up areas where they used cluster bombs once a conflict ends." is full of shit. How precisely do they expect IDF to do it in South Lebanon is clear only to CNN, but the few officers that created the whole morass could do with some exercise. The fresh air and the occupation that calls for unwavering attention will do them no end of good. Judge Advocate General's respected opinion notwithstanding.