August 11, 2006
Mr. Stephen J. Hadley
Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
1st Floor, West Wing
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
1650 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. Hadley,
I write to express Human Rights Watch’s concern about Israel’s reported request for the U.S. government to expedite transfer of cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch is firmly of the view that the United States should not ship cluster munitions to Israel at this time due to the likelihood that they would substantially increase the civilian toll in southern Lebanon.
First, the wide dispersal pattern of M26 submunition rockets makes it very difficult to avoid civilian casualties if civilians are in the area. The M26 rocket creates a wide-area effect by dispensing 644 M77 submunitions. A typical volley of six rockets would release 3,864 submunitions over an area with a 0.6 mile (1 km) radius. This danger is compounded by Israel’s false and deadly assumption, as demonstrated in its official statements and military actions, that because Israel has issued warnings for all civilians to flee southern Lebanon, there must be no civilians left there.
Second, because of the high initial failure rate of their submunitions, M26 rockets leave behind large numbers of hazardous landmine-like explosive “duds” that risk injuring and killing civilians long after an attack. U.S. testing data puts the initial failure rate of M77 submunitions at between 5 and 23 percent. British military testing indicates an initial failure rate of between 5 and 10 percent. Both governments note that initial failure rates depend on ground conditions, range, and other operational factors.
During the major hostilities in Iraq in 2003, the U.S. Army caused hundreds of civilian casualties with M26 rockets because it used them in populated areas such as al-Hilla, al-Najaf, and Karbala’. Such use was deadly during and after strikes because of the broad area effect and the large number of initially unexploded submunitions left behind. In the report “Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq,” Human Rights Watch discusses U.S. use of the M26 in detail.
The Army’s conduct was in sharp contrast to that of the U.S. Air Force which, heeding earlier reports from Human Rights Watch on U.S. military action in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, largely stopped using cluster munitions in populated areas in Iraq. In conversations with Human Rights Watch following these early phases of the Iraq war, senior U.S. Army personnel conceded that the Army should follow the Air Force’s lead and that the use of cluster munitions in populated areas should not be repeated.
In the current conflict, Israel has already used artillery-fired cluster munitions against populated areas, causing civilian casualties. According to eyewitnesses and survivors of an attack interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Israel fired several artillery-based cluster munitions at the village of Blida around 3:00 p.m. on July 19. Three witnesses described how the artillery shells dropped hundreds of cluster submunitions on the village. The attack killed sixty-year-old Maryam Ibrahim inside her home. At least two submunitions entered the basement that the Ali family was using as a shelter, wounding twelve people, including seven children. The New York Times quoted an Israeli embassy spokesman in Washington, David Siegel, as denying this use, but his summary denial is simply false.
We are aware of reports that Israel has vowed not to use U.S.-supplied cluster munitions in populated areas, but its actions to date make that vow unreliable. As Human Rights Watch demonstrated in our recent report, “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon,” the Israeli military has repeatedly launched indiscriminate attacks in populated areas, targeting civilian vehicles and houses as if there were no civilians left in southern Lebanon. Despite Israeli warnings to evacuate, an estimated 100,000 civilians remain in southern Lebanon because of infirmity, inability to afford exorbitant taxi fares to leave, or fear of becoming another roadside casualty of Israeli attacks. Israel’s persistent failure to recognize this reality – indeed, its government’s repeated denial of it – leaves its promise to use cluster munitions only in non-civilian areas unreliable.
Given the substantial likelihood that the delivery of M26 and other cluster munitions would aggravate the already-large civilian toll in southern Lebanon, we urge the U.S. government to withhold delivery of these deadly weapons.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Human Rights Watch