Israel Asks U.S. to Ship Rockets With Wide Blast
By DAVID S. CLOUD
York Times" -- -- 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
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
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 said.
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 village.
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 munitions.
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
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
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
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.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company