Israel has flouted international humanitarian law by attacking Lebanese electrical stations three
times in less than a year, most recently on May 5. In at least one of the attacks Israel apparently
used U.S. supplied air-to-ground missiles to damage Lebanon's civilian electrical infrastructure.
Despite the international outrage, the United States has not protested Israel's actions. Rather, the
U.S. continues to sell to Israel additional advanced air-to-ground missiles that could be used in
Human Rights Watch urges the U.S. Government not to go forward with these sales until Israel provides assurances that it will not use U.S. supplied missiles to attack civilian structures in Lebanon. To proceed with the sales would send the wrong signal to Israel such a short time after it violated international humanitarian law (IHL) by deliberately targeting Lebanon's electrical infrastructure.
U.S. military equipment plays an important role in Israeli attacks on civilian targets. In the attack on the Bsalim electrical station on May 5, 2000, it appears the Israeli Air Force used U.S. attack helicopters and missiles. Workers at the plant said they heard helicopters and described three series of attacks.(1) The attacks completely destroyed three of the six transformers at the facility.(2) The helicopters apparently fired U.S.-supplied AGM-114 Hellfire laser-guided missiles.(3) In a previous Israeli attack on Bsalim, on May 16, 1996, U.S.-built F16 fighter planes dropped laser-guided bombs on the electrical station.(4)
The U.S., however, continues to sell Israel large quantities of weapons. On March 8, 2000, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it would sell to Israel forty-one AGM-142D air to ground missiles. The same month Israel also signed a letter of offer and acceptance for the modernization of twelve of its AH-64A Apache attack helicopters to the AH-64D Apache Longbow configuration.(5) The Apache upgrades were part of a larger Israeli request for helicopter equipment and missiles, including 480 latest-generation AGM-114L3 Hellfire missiles.(6)
The May 5, 2000 Israeli attacks, as well as previous attacks on February 8, 2000, and June 24, 1999, were clear violations of international humanitarian law. The electrical stations were civilian facilities and played no part in Hizballah's military campaign to oust the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from the Israeli-occupied area of southern Lebanon. International humanitarian law only allows attacks against "military objectives." Military objectives are "objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage."(7) The Israeli destruction of Lebanese power stations has had no discernable effect on Hizballah's military efforts, and the attack only punished the Lebanese population. With each attack, large parts of Lebanon have been plunged into darkness, and the Lebanese state electrical utility has been forced to ration electricity to the entire country.
In addition to violating international law, the Israeli attacks on electrical facilities also violated the April 1996 Israel-Lebanon Ceasefire Understanding, designed to protect civilians and reduce civilian casualties on both sides of the border. The Understanding, brokered in part by the United States, has somewhat limited the impact of the fighting on the civilian population. The Israeli military's actions threatened to scuttle the fragile agreement, and plunge southern Lebanon and northern Israel back into yet another violent cycle of broad attacks on the civilians on both sides of the border. The U.S. State Department has said, "We do not believe that Israeli attacks against civilian infrastructure and populated areas will solve the problem," adding, "We believe that April 1996 Understanding is an important undertaking which both sides need to adhere to."(8)
The War in Lebanon
Lebanon has been the scene of combat between Israeli military units and various guerrilla groups since the 1970s. Since 1978 the Israel Defense Forces, with the help of a surrogate militia that it arms and finances, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), has occupied part of southern Lebanon, ostensibly to prevent guerrilla incursions into and rocket attacks on northern Israel.(9) These military forces have been locked in a conflict with Lebanese and Palestinian resistance groups--Hizballah (Party of God) is the largest fighting to expel the IDF from Lebanon.(10)
The war in southern Lebanon is characterized by frequent attacks, with remote-controlled mines, mortars, and rockets, by resistance groups on IDF/SLA patrols and positions in the occupied area. Sometimes these attacks are launched from locations close to Lebanese villages or United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) positions. In retaliation, IDF aircraft bomb and IDF/SLA units shell areas where the guerrillas are suspected to be hiding. Sometimes these attacks are indiscriminate in nature. Israeli targets have included Lebanese villages and surrounding areas, leading to civilian casualties. In response to civilian casualties, Hizballah has fired indiscriminate Katyusha rockets at Israel, sometimes leading to Israeli civilian casualties. Several times over the last decade these military reprisals on both sides have led to major Israeli military operations, which in addition to attacks on guerrilla positions include targeting civilian infrastructure to punish the Lebanese government and population for allowing resistance groups to operate against Israeli forces in occupied southern Lebanon.
The latest sustained Israeli military campaign was "Operation Grapes of Wrath," from April 11 to April 27, 1996. Some 154 Lebanese civilians were killed and 351 were injured. (Three Israeli civilians were seriously injured in Hizballah rocket attacks during this period.) This operation ended in late April after international intervention and the negotiation of a written "understanding," which stipulated:
1. Armed groups in Lebanon will not carry out attacks by Katyusha rockets or by any kind of weapon into Israel.
2. Israel and those cooperating with it will not fire any kind of weapon at civilians or civilian targets in Lebanon.
3. Beyond this, the two parties commit to ensuring that under no circumstance will civilians be targets of attack and the civilian population and industrial and electrical installations will not be used as launching grounds for attacks.(11)
Representatives from France, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and the United States are members of the Monitoring Group that monitors the application of the understanding and hears complaints about violations from both sides.
On April 16, 2000, Israel announced it would no longer participate in the Monitoring Group meetings, claiming that Hizballah does not act in accordance with the Understanding, by firing from Lebanese villages, and that the chairs of the Monitoring Group, France and the United States, were unable to contain Hizballah. Israel said it would rejoin the Monitoring Group on the condition that Hizballah refrain from shelling Israeli positions from civilian villages for a one-week period.(12)
Daily attacks between the combatants continue. Civilians continue to be the principal victims of the violence. According to the U.S. State Department Human Rights Reports for 1999, 90 percent of the people injured in southern Lebanon were civilians, and IDF/SLA units were responsible for some 77 percent of all civilian injuries.
The IDF, SLA, and Lebanese combatants also sustained losses. It was the death of four Israeli soldiers and wounding of eleven more in southern Lebanon in less than a week that led Prime Minister Barak to decide, on February 7, to retaliate by attacking the electrical stations,(13) in clear violation of international humanitarian law.
It is important to note the bombing of electrical stations is part of a broader pattern of deliberate Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. Less than a year previously, on June 24, 1999, Israeli aircraft bombed the electrical facilities at Jamhour, Bsalim, Baalbeck, Bint Jbail, and a power relay station north of Sidon. IDF Brig. Gen. Dan Halutz said at a press conference on June 25 that the infrastructure targets "had been selected a long time ago," and that "the government decided to carry out an attack on Lebanese infrastructure and not only on Hizballah objectives...in order to stress that all power brokers in Lebanon who support Hizballah's murderous activity are liable to attack."(14)
On March 5, 2000, the Israeli government passed a resolution for the IDF to leave southern Lebanon and redeploy along the Israel-Lebanon border by July. The move, however, does not ensure peace or safety for the Lebanese people. The same day, Prime Minister Barak warned on Israeli TV, "We do not suggest to anyone to try to test our resolve to protect the citizens of this country from the international border."(15)
Prohibitions against attacks on civilian infrastructure
International humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war, governs the conduct of military operations in southern Lebanon. In the case of the civilian population and civilian buildings, international humanitarian law requires that, "the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives."(16)
In Lebanon, however, Israel fails to observe this requirement by repeatedly targeting civilian electrical facilities. In a letter faxed to Human Rights Watch in 1994, Col. Ahaz Ben-Ari, then Head of International Law Branch, Israel Defense Forces, included electrical supply systems in a list of civilian structures that the IDF would not deliberately target. However the IDF appears to have reversed its position. Since 1996, IDF fighter-bombers have targeted and heavily damaged Lebanese electrical stations three times, at enormous cost to the Lebanese government and civilian population. According to the Lebanese Minster of Electricity and Water Resources, the June 1999 attack cost U.S.$50 million to repair; the February 2000 attack is estimated to have caused twice as much damage; and the May 5 damage may cost the Lebanese utility another $50 million to fix.(17)
Although an electrical facility may sometimes provide electricity to military units, it may only be targeted if it is shown to make an "effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage."(18) In addition, if the facility does in some way contribute to military action, the rule of proportionality requires that the "incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or any combination thereof" must be proportional to the "concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."(19)
Israel has not shown that its attacks on Lebanese electrical stations provide any direct military advantage. Previous attacks have not reduced Hizballah's ability to operate against the IDF/SLA. Past Israeli arguments that these attacks place pressure on the Lebanese government to reign in Hizballah also ring false. Already in 1996, Israeli Ambassador Gad Yaacobi said at the United Nations that: "The Lebanese government does not have the ability--or the will--to control Hizballah activities."(20)
The AGM-114 "Hellfire" is a short-range, air-to-ground missile used on AH-64A Apache, AH-64D Longbow Apache, AH-1W Super Cobra, OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, and Special Operations UH-60 helicopters. There are currently six different production models: AGM-114A/B/C/F, AGM-114K (Hellfire II) and AGM-114L (Longbow Hellfire). The Hellfire missile homes on a laser spot projected from ground observers, other aircraft, or the launching aircraft's own laser designator. The latest generation Longbow Hellfire has millimeter wave radar fire-and-forget guidance system that is also more effective in adverse weather conditions. (21)
The 100-pound Hellfire missile's maximum range is approximately eight kilometers. The AGM-114A/B/C has a high-explosive shaped charge warhead and is effective against tanks, bunkers, buildings, radar and communication equipment. The AGM-114F/K/L has a tandem warhead that is more effective against reactive armor.(22)
The Hellfire was first widely used by U.S. forces during the Gulf War. After the Gulf War an undisclosed number of Hellfire missiles were transferred to the Israeli military.(23) In 1995 Israel purchased $45 million worth of Hellfire II (AGM-142K) missiles.(24) The first large-scale Israeli military use of Hellfire missiles was in the May 1996 "Grapes of Wrath" Operation in southern Lebanon during which many civilian structures were targeted and some 154 Lebanese civilians were killed, and another 351 civilians were injured.(25)
The AGM-114A/B/C/F/K is produced by Boeing Corporation (formerly Rockwell International) and Lockheed Martin (formerly Martin Marietta). The Longbow Hellfire is produced by Longbow Limited Liability Company, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Systems and Northrop Grumman Electronic Sensors and Systems Sector.(26)
The November 1999 Israeli request for AH-64D Longbow Helicopter upgrades and 480 AGM-114L3 Longbow Hellfire missiles is apparently in final negotiations.(27) A separate contract for an unknown number of Longbow Hellfire missiles initiated on July 7, 1998 will be completed by August 31, 2005.(28)
The AGM-142 is a medium-range Imaging-Infra-Red (IIR) or TV guided, air-to-ground missile. The manufacturer states that it is effective against "high-value ground and sea targets such as power plants, missile sites, bridges, ships, and bunkers."(29) Weighing about 3,000 pounds when launched, its classified range exceeds fifty nautical miles. The AGM-142 can be fitted with an 800-pound blast fragmentation or an I-800 penetration warhead.(30)
The AGM-142 is a derivative of the Israeli designed "Popeye" air-to-ground missile. In 1990 the U.S. Air Force evaluated the missile and purchased several hundred from Israel. The "D" upgrade to the AGM-142 was financed by the United States, and incorporated guidance improvements.
The improved weapon is produced by Precision Guided Systems United States (PGSUS) Limited Liability Company of Orlando, Florida, a join venture between Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, and Raphael, an Israeli firm. In early 1997, PGSUS sold Israel 45 AGM-142D missiles.(31) Since then the United States has sold, or approved sales of, AGM-142 missiles to a number of countries, including Australia, Greece and South Korea.(32)
The U.S. proposed sale would be for "41 missiles with data links (including 33 with Z-seeker heads and eight without seeker heads), containers, captive air training sets, spare and repair parts, publications and technical data, U.S. Government and contractor technical and logistics personnel services, and other related elements of program support."(33) An additional deal for the sale of two spare AGM-142 control sections was announced on March 31, 2000.(34)
Sending the wrong signal
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases where U.S.-origin weapons appear to have been used by Israeli forces in violation of international humanitarian law.(35) The United States government has never publicly protested this misuse of U.S. weapons. It is possible that the AGM-114 will be used again by the Israel Air Force to attack electrical facilities or other civilian targets, and that the AGM-142 may be used in the future. In light of the recent Israeli attacks, these are clearly the wrong sales at the wrong time.
Human Rights Watch holds that any state has the right to procure weapons for its legitimate self-defense, but maintains that it must also respect international humanitarian law. Selling additional air-to-ground missiles to Israel so soon after Israel blatantly violated international law would send the wrong signal to the Israeli government. Indeed these weapons could be used in Israeli attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon. Human Rights Watch therefore urges the U.S. government not to go forward with the sale of any U.S. air-to-ground missiles to Israel until the U.S. receives assurances from the Israeli government that it will not use those weapons to attack power plants and other civilian structures in Lebanon.
1. Human Rights Watch interviews, Bsalim, Lebanon, May 6, 2000. Ha’aretz and the Washington Post reported Apache attack helicopters were used to attack the Bsalim power station. Amos Harel, Nitzan Horowitz and Yossi Verter, “Border violence in north lets up,” Ha’aretz, May 7, 2000; and “Lebanon to Ration Power After Airstrike on Plants,” Washington Post, May 6, 2000. All of the Israeli military’s attack helicopters, including the AH-64A Apache, are from the United States. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 1999-2000 (London: Oxford University Press, 1999), p.136.
2. Human Rights Watch interviews, Bsalim, Lebanon, May 6, 2000.
3. According to Robert Fisk, a British journalist who saw the remains of two missiles at Bsalim, the tail section of the missile was exactly like that of an unexploded Hellfire missile he saw in southern Lebanon in 1996. Coding on the missile fragments was also similar to that on the unexploded Hellfire missile in 1996. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Robert Fisk, May 16, 2000. The damage described by engineers also suggests that a missile with a shaped charge warhead, like the AGM-114 was used to attack the facility. Human Rights Watch interviews, Bsalim, Lebanon, May 6, 2000. U.S. attack helicopters, such as the AH-64A Apache, use the laser-guided Hellfire missile to attack ground targets. U.S. Army Air War College, "Hellfire Guided Missiles, 114A, 114C, 114F, and 114K," available at http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/systems/dvic433.htm.
4. Israel Foreign Ministry, "Summary of 'Operation Grapes of Wrath' Press Conference," April 15, 1996; "Israel: IDF Officers Summarize Lebanon Operations: 16 April," Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), April 17, 1996.
5. "Israel, Singapore sign for Apache deals," Jane's Defence Weekly, March 1, 2000; and Steward Penney, "Contracts," Flight International, March 7.
6. "Letter to the Honorable J. Dennis Hastert Speaker of the House of Representatives, Transmittal 00-15," Federal Register, November 10, 1999. The contract negotiations were prolonged by a dispute between the United States and Israel over the transfer of secret source codes for the Longbow fire control radar. "Israel, Singapore sign for Apache deals," Jane's Defence Weekly, March 1, 2000
7. Article 52 (2) of Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions.
8. Jamie Rubin, State Department Spokesman, "Transcript: State Department Briefing," February 17, 2000.
9. In 1978 the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 425, which called on Israel to "withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory." S/425/1978
10. For more information see, Human Rights Watch, Civilian Pawns: Laws of War Violations and the Use of Weapons on the Israel-Lebanon Border (New York: Human Rights Watch, May 1996); and Human Rights Watch, "'Operation Grapes of Wrath': The Civilian Victims," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 9, no. 8 (E), September 1997.
11. "Israel-Lebanon Ceasefire Understanding," available on U.S. Embassy to Israel website at http://www.usis-israel.org.il/publish/peace/documents/ceasefire_understa...
12. Nicholas Blanford, "Israel officially withdraws from Monitoring Group," Daily Star (Beirut), April 17, 2000; and telephone interview with Embassy of Israel to the United States, Washington, D.C., April 18, 2000.
13. "Heightened tension in northern Israel as PM vows to punish Hezbollah," Agence France-Presse, February 7, 2000.
14. Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 2000 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), pp. 328-9.
15. Danna Harman and David Rudge, "Cabinet votes for IDF to leave Lebanon by July," Jerusalem Post, March 6, 2000.
16. Article 48 (Basic rule) of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions. While Israel has not ratified Protocol I, Protocol I is regarded as an authoritative elaboration of the duty to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and to spare civilians from attack.
17. "Israel hits Lebanese power stations, Hezbollah positions," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, February 8, 2000; and Nayla Razzouk, " Israeli strikes plunge Lebanon in darkness," Agence France-Presse, May 5, 2000.
18. Article 52 (2) of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions.
19. Article 57 (2) (a) (iii) of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions.
20. Statement of Ambassador Gad Yaacobi, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, to the Security Council, April 15, 1996.
21. Captain Adam W. Lange, "Hellfire: Getting the most from a Lethal Missile System," Armor, January-February 1998.
23. Robert Fisk, "A rocket is returned to sender," Independent (London), June 24, 1997.
24. "Tables of Sales and Giveaways, 1994-Present," Federation of American Scientists (FAS), available at http://www.fas.org/asmp/profiles/worldtable.html