Friday, February 02, 2007
Winning Hearts and Minds in the Middle East
Use of U.S. Made Cluster Bombs by Israel * National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)
The Guardian, UK:
US studies Israel's cluster bomb use in Lebanon
Monday January 29, 2007
Israel may have violated agreements with Washington on the use of US-made cluster bombs in its war with Hizbullah in Lebanon last summer, the state department said today.
The Bush administration must now decide what action, if any, to take against Israel for its use of the weapons against towns and villages from which Hizbullah fighters fired rockets.
Opinion among US officials was divided, the New York Times reported at the weekend. The paper said some middle-ranking officials at the Pentagon and the state department were arguing that Israel had violated prohibitions on using cluster munitions against civilian areas.
However, others in both departments thought Israel's use of the weapons was justified on the grounds of self-defence in a conflict that cost the lives of 159 Israeli soldiers and civilians, the paper said. At least 850 Lebanese died in the fighting.
Tough action from the US is believed to be unlikely because of the White House's staunch support for the Israeli government.
Cluster bombs scatter hundreds of small "bomblets", many of which fail to explode, over a wide area. Inquisitive children may later pick these up, or civilians could step on them.
Israeli forces dropped an estimated 1m cluster bomblets in southern Lebanon last summer, 90% of which were dropped (pdf) in the last three days of the conflict, the group Landmine Action reported in October.
Even if Israel is found to be in violation of its agreements with the US, it is up to George Bush to decide whether to impose sanctions unless Congress decides to take legislative action, a highly unlikely development.
The state department is required to notify Congress of even the preliminary findings of possible violations of the Arms Export Control Act, the statute governing arms sales. It began an investigation in August.
Whatever the US decides, Israel makes its own cluster munitions, so a cutoff of US supplies would be mainly symbolic.
In 1982, the Reagan administration imposed a six-year ban on cluster bombs sales to Israel after a congressional investigation found Israel had used the weapons in civilian areas during its invasion of Lebanon that year.
The UN and human rights groups strongly criticised Israel's use of cluster bombs at the end of the 2006 Lebanon conflict.
"What is shocking and completely immoral is 90% of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution," the UN humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, said soon after the war ended.
However, Israel said the use of cluster bombs was in accordance with international law and that its forces had not targeted civilians.
"The IDF [Israel Defence Force] does not deliberately attack civilians, and takes steps to minimise any incidental collateral harm by warning them in advance of an action, even at the expense of losing the element of surprise," the Israeli foreign ministry said last summer.
Nevertheless, Israeli television reported in December that the military's judge advocate general was gathering evidence for possible criminal charges against military officers who may have given orders for cluster bombs to be dropped on populated areas.
According to the UN mine action coordination centre for South Lebanon, by December 19, 18 people had been killed and 145 injured since the August ceasefire.
The casualty rate has come down sharply. Immediately after the war, there were more than 30 casualties a week, but the figure now stands at around three or four.
New Report From The Folks Who Sold Us Saddam's WMD
- A long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, presented to President Bush by the intelligence community yesterday, outlines an increasingly perilous situation in which the United States has little control and there is a strong possibility of further deterioration, according to sources familiar with the document.
- In a discussion of whether Iraq has reached a state of civil war, the 90-page classified NIE comes to no conclusion and holds out prospects of improvement. But it couches glimmers of optimism in deep uncertainty about whether the Iraqi leaders will be able to transcend sectarian interests and fight against extremists, establish effective national institutions and end rampant corruption.
Legislators have been equally critical of the intelligence community, repeatedly recalling that most of the key judgments in the October 2002 NIE on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were wrong. That assessment concluded that Saddam Hussein had amassed chemical and biological weapons and was "reconstituting" his nuclear weapons program. It became the foundation of the Bush administration's case -- and congressional authorization -- for invading Iraq.
"One of the sort of deeply held rumors around here is that the intelligence community gives an administration or a president what he wants by way of intelligence," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Navy Vice Adm. John M. McConnell, Bush's nominee to be director of national intelligence, during McConnell's confirmation hearing yesterday.
Without directly accepting Feinstein's premise, McConnell replied that the intelligence community had learned "meaningful" lessons over the past several years and that "there's very intense focus on independence." McConnell and others made clear that the new NIE on Iraq had been subjected to extensive competitive analysis to test its conclusions.
One senior congressional aide said the NIE had been described to him as "unpleasant but very detailed." A source familiar with its language said it contained several dissents that are prominently displayed so that policymakers understand any disagreements within the intelligence community -- a significant change from the 2002 document, which listed most key dissents in small-type footnotes.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, pointedly told McConnell that "we are not going to accept national security issue judgment[s] without examining the intelligence underlying the judgments, and I believe this committee has an obligation to perform due diligence on such important documents." Previous committee attempts to obtain material to back up a 2005 NIE on Iran, Bond said, had "run into resistance."