Who are the enemies of Lebanon

The new enemy of the Lebanese

by Otfried Nassauer

The guns are silent in Lebanon. But there are also civilian casualties during the ceasefire. Because the Israeli army has evidently used weapons, which left highly explosive cluster munitions behind.

The ceasefire in Lebanon had only just come into effect when tens of thousands of refugees were making their way home. But an anonymous and treacherous enemy is waiting for those returning home in the south: UXO. "Unexploded Ordnance" - unexploded ammunition. Often these are so-called sub- or cluster munitions or "daughter projectiles", small explosive devices, hundreds or thousands of which were used against area targets with artillery shells, rockets and cluster bombs. For years they endanger civilians and especially children.

These submunitions are well suited to fighting katyushas and missiles on their launchers, "soft targets" whose position is often only roughly known. Katyushas were Hezbollah's main weapons in this war. Thousands of them were used against targets in northern Israel.

A few hours after the ceasefire began, the first casualties were reported. One dead child in Habbouche, 15 injured in Kfar Roumane and Nabatiyeh - all victims of duds. The Lebanese government, the UN, several aid organizations and even the Israeli army warned. Refugees should only return to their homes or their ruins after the Lebanese army has searched for unexploded live ammunition.

Israel's armed forces have a wide variety of bombs and projectiles for use in cluster munitions. The Air Force has ATAP bombs, which are often dropped in bundles and each contain 320, 512 or 900 small explosive devices. An explosive device has a diameter of only 4.2 centimeters and is just 5.5 centimeters long. The "bomblets" weigh less than 300 grams and can easily be exploded by children. Their explosive power is sufficient to penetrate more than 10 centimeters of armor, but also to shoot 1200 shrapnel fragments in all directions. Victims hardly stand a chance.

Bomblets are also used with helicopters and artillery. The Israeli army also has the MLRS rocket launcher, which the Bundeswehr also uses. It fires up to 12 rockets in one volley, spreading almost 8,000 submunitions over hundreds of thousands of square meters. Israeli companies even fill mortar projectiles with submunitions. Promotional material for one of the most modern bomblet projectiles explains the reason why they are so popular with the military: "Depending on the type of target," grenades with submunitions are five to eight times as cost-effective "as normal artillery projectiles of the same caliber.

As "cost-effective" bomblets as they are from a military point of view, they have one major flaw: the percentage of submunitions that do not explode on impact is high. The American human rights organization Human Rights Watch, which criticized Israel for the use of such bullets during the war, speaks of an error rate of 14 percent. Sometimes it is even higher. In attempts with the submunition of the MLRS missiles, up to 40 percent did not work correctly in individual cases. When Israel wanted more MLRS rockets with submunitions from the USA during the war, even Washington parliamentarians protested. Peace and human rights groups as well as development aid organizations have long wanted these weapons to be banned. They consider their use to be contrary to international law because the weapons work indiscriminately against soldiers and civilians - a violation of the Geneva Convention.

But there is still no explicit and efficient ban on the use of cluster munitions. So far, only a few countries have signed a new additional protocol which at least obliges those who use such weapons to mark the areas hit. Israel's armed forces were able to counter the allegations made by Human Rights Watch during the war, stating that no prohibited weapons were used.

But the pressure is growing. "Belgium is the first country to have decided to forego such weapons entirely," reports Thomas Gebauer from Medico International. There is also growing pressure on the federal government to completely dispense with such ammunition.

The ammunition manufacturers are reacting to the growing public criticism - also in Israel. Newer submunitions have a self-destruct mechanism that re-ignites them 15 seconds after impact. The Israeli manufacturer IMI claims that this will reduce the error rate to less than one percent. The US armed forces tested the self-destruct mechanism with MLRS missiles because they did not want to do without this type of ammunition. The result was clear: the test was terminated because the error rate was too high.

The duds are also a danger to the soldiers of the future peacekeeping force. But the UN resolution on which the ceasefire is based has a crucial loophole: it calls on Israel to provide maps of mined areas, but not information about targets that have been attacked with cluster munitions.

It is currently unclear how many of the approximately 7,000 targets that the Israeli Air Force alone claims to have attacked were sprinkled. More than a few were certain. This is also suggested by the warning leaflets that Israel's warplanes are now raining down on Lebanon instead of further submunitions.


is a freelance journalist and heads the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security - BITS