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Last update - 10:57 14/11/2006

Israel opted for cheaper, unsafe cluster bombs in Lebanon war

By Meron Rapoport, Haaretz Correspondent

During the second Lebanon war, Israel made use of American-made cluster bombs that left behind thousands of unexploded bomblets, even though Israel Military Industries produces cluster bombs that leave nearly no unexploded munitions. The main reason for the use of the U.S.-made weapons: Israel uses military aid funds to purchase cluster bombs from the U.S., and in order to buy IMI-made bombs, the Israel Defense Forces would have to dip into its own budget.

"The consideration is budgetary," a defense related source said. However, each IMI-made cluster bomblet costs a mere $10.

The cluster bombs constitute the number one humanitarian problem facing Lebanon after the war because many of the bomblets remain unexploded and as duds, they have turned into make-shift mines, converting towns, villages and fields into undeclared minefields. Since the cease-fire went into effect on August 14, at least 14 civilians, including many children, have been killed by the unexploded bomblets.

During the war in Lebanon, Israel fired thousands of cluster bomblets, using rockets and artillery shells as delivery systems. In each rocket or shell there could be as many as several hundred bomblets, which are meant to disperse and cover an area of hundreds of square meters, exploding as they hit the ground.

According to testimony published in Haaretz, Israel fired at least 1.2 million bomblets through the use of the Multiple Launch System Rocket (MLRS), which can fire up to 12 rockets in 60 seconds. The United Nations estimates that three million such bomblets were fired into Lebanon during the war.

The United Nations demining unit estimates the ratio of duds in the cluster bomblets fired by Israel could be as high as 30-40 percent. This translates into hundreds of thousands of unexploded bomblets throughout southern Lebanon, endangering the lives of residents and preventing farmers from working their land.

Soldiers in the artillery corps told Haaretz that nearly all the cluster munitions fired into Lebanon were American-made. The officially acknowledged ratio of duds is 15 percent, but the U.S. Army acknowledged during the war in Iraq the ratio of duds was closer to 30 percent. The IDF also makes use of older versions of the U.S.-made cluster bombs, whose ratio of duds is even higher.

In the 1990s, following injuries to Israeli soldiers by unexploded clusters, a decision was made to develop better munitions at IMI. According to globalsecurity.org, the rate of duds in cluster bomblets made by IMI ranges from 1 percent to 2 percent. In figures, this translates into one dud out of every 500 IMI-made bomblets, compared to one out of every three in the American-made ones. To date IMI has manufactured some 60 million such bomblets, designated M85, and has exported them to many armies throughout the world. According to IMI "the unique IMI Self-Destruct M85 bomblet ensures that no hazardous duds are encountered by advancing friendly forces. The IMI safety mechanism prevents inadvertent arming of duds by manual means. This requirement is not met by any other bomblet worldwide."

According to globalsecurity.org, the cost of each bomblet stands at $10, but defense sources say that even though IMI has been producing this munition for the past eight years, and exports it throughout the world, the IDF does not purchase them. "Israel opts to purchase American bomblets with military assistance funds," the source explained.

Israel receives $3 billion in annual military assistance from the U.S., and nearly the entire amount is used to procure American-made weapons. "The considerations are budgetary. There are needs and it is clearly understandable why American weapons, paid for with aid funds, are preferred over Israeli weapons," the defense source said. "But these bomblets are 'friendly' for our soldiers as well, and they are the ones that need to enter the zone that was saturated with cluster bombs," he added.

In response the army said that "because of operational considerations, the IDF is unable to comment on the weapons it has in its arsenal. However, it should be noted that the IDF makes use of weapons and tactics that are permissible by international law."

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