Israel Asks U.S. to Ship Rockets With Wide Blast

Published: August 11, 2006

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10 — Israel has asked the Bush
administration to speed delivery of short-range
antipersonnel rockets armed with cluster munitions,
which it could use to strike Hezbollah missile sites
in Lebanon, two American officials said Thursday.

 The request for M-26 artillery rockets, which are
fired in barrages and carry hundreds of grenade-like
bomblets that scatter and explode over a broad area,
is likely to be approved shortly, along with other
arms, a senior official said.

But some State Department officials have sought to
delay the approval because of concerns over the
likelihood of civilian casualties, and the diplomatic
repercussions. The rockets, while they would be very
effective against hidden missile launchers, officials
say, are fired by the dozen and could be expected to
cause civilian casualties if used against targets in
populated areas.

Israel is asking for the rockets now because it has
been unable to suppress Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket
attacks in the month-old conflict by using bombs
dropped from aircraft and other types of artillery,
the officials said. The Katyusha rockets have killed
dozens of civilians in Israel.

The United States had approved the sale of M-26’s to
Israel some time ago, but the weapons had not yet been
delivered when the crisis in Lebanon erupted. If the
shipment is approved, Israel may be told that it must
be especially careful about firing the rockets into
populated areas, the senior official said.

Israel has long told American officials that it wanted
M-26 rockets for use against conventional armies in
case Israel was invaded, one of the American officials
said. But after being pressed in recent days on what
they intended to use the weapons for, Israeli
officials disclosed that they planned to use them
against rocket sites in Lebanon. It was this prospect
that raised the intense concerns over civilian

During much of the 1980’s, the United States
maintained a moratorium on selling cluster munitions
to Israel, following disclosures that civilians in
Lebanon had been killed with the weapons during the
1982 Israeli invasion. But the moratorium was lifted
late in the Reagan administration, and since then, the
United States has sold Israel some types of cluster
munitions, the senior official said.

Officials would discuss the issue only on the
condition of anonymity, as the debate over what to do
is not resolved and is freighted with implications for
the difficult diplomacy that is under way.

State Department officials “are discussing whether or
not there needs to be a block on this sale because of
the past history and because of the current
circumstances,” said the senior official, adding that
it was likely that Israel will get the rockets, but
will be told to be “be careful.”

David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in
Washington, declined to comment on Israel’s request.
He said, though, that “as a rule, we obviously don’t
fire into populated areas, with the exception of the
use of precision-guided munitions against terrorist
targets.” In such cases, Israel has dropped leaflets
warning of impending attacks to avoid civilian
casualties, he said.

In the case of cluster munitions, including the
Multiple Launch Rocket System, which fires the M-26,
the Israeli military only fires into open terrain
where rocket launchers or other military targets are
found, to avoid killing civilians, an Israeli official

The debate over whether to ship Israel the missiles,
which include the cluster munitions and use launchers
that Israel has already received, comes as the Bush
administration has been trying to win support for a
draft United Nations resolution that calls for
immediate cessation of “all attacks” by Hezbollah and
of “offensive military operations” by Israel.

Arab governments, under pressure to halt the rising
number of civilian casualties in Lebanon, have
criticized the measure for not calling for a
withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

While Bush administration officials have criticized
Israeli strikes that have caused civilian casualties,
they have also backed the offensive against Hezbollah
by rushing arms shipments to the region. Last month
the administration approved a shipment of
precision-guided munitions, which one senior official
said this week included at least 25 of the 5,000-pound
“bunker-buster” bombs.

Israel has recently asked for another shipment of
precision-guided munitions, which is likely to be
approved, the senior official said.

Last month, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said
its researchers had uncovered evidence that Israel had
fired cluster munitions on July 19 at the Lebanese
village of Bilda, which the group said had killed one
civilian and wounded at least 12 others, including 7
children. The group said it had interviewed survivors
of the attack, who described incoming artillery shells
dispensing hundreds of cluster submunitions on the

Human Rights Watch also released photographs, taken
recently by its researchers in northern Israel, of
what it said were American-supplied artillery shells
that had markings showing they carried cluster

Mr. Siegel, the Israeli Embassy spokesman, denied that
cluster munitions had been used on the village.

The United States Army also employs the M-26 rocket
and the Multiple Launch Rocket System in combat, and
the Pentagon has sold the weapon to numerous other
allies, in addition to Israel. The system is
especially effective at attacking enemy artillery
sites, military experts say, because the rockets can
be quickly targeted against a defined geographic area.
Each rocket contains 644 submunitions that kill enemy
soldiers operating artillery in the area.

But Human Rights Watch and other groups have
campaigned for the elimination of cluster munitions,
noting that even if civilians are not present when the
weapons is used, some submunitions that do not
detonate on impact can later injure or kill civilians.

The M-26 “is a particularly deadly weapon,” Bonnie
Docherty, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who
helped write a study of the United States’ use of the
weapons in the 2003 Iraq invasion. “They were used
widely by U.S. forces in Iraq and caused hundreds of
civilian casualties.”

After the Reagan administration determined in 1982
that the cluster munitions had been used by Israel
against civilian areas, the delivery of the artillery
shells containing the munitions to Israel was

Israel was found to have violated a 1976 agreement
with the United States in which it had agreed only to
use cluster munitions against Arab armies and against
clearly defined military targets. The moratorium on
selling Israel cluster weapons was later lifted by the
Reagan administration.

This week, State Department officials were studying
records of what happened in 1982 as part of their
internal deliberations into whether to grant approval
for the sale to go forward.


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