Monday, April 6, 2009

One More Time--Operation Cast Lead and WP

“This report documents Israel's extensive use of white phosphorus munitions during its 22-day military operations in Gaza, from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, named Operation Cast Lead. Based on in-depth investigations in Gaza, the report concludes that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) repeatedly exploded white phosphorus munitions in the air over populated areas, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital.

White Phosphorus munitions did not kill the most civilians in Gaza – many more died from missiles, bombs, heavy artillery, tank shells, and small arms fire – but their use in densely populated neighborhoods, including downtown Gaza City, violated international humanitarian law (the laws of war), which requires taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian harm and prohibits indiscriminate attacks.

The unlawful use of white phosphorus was neither incidental nor accidental. It was repeated over time and in different locations, with the IDF "air-bursting" the munition in populated areas up to the last days of its military operation. Even if intended as an obscurant rather than as a weapon, the IDF's repeated firing of air-burst white phosphorus shells from 155mm artillery into densely populated areas was indiscriminate and indicates the commission of war crimes.”

So begins the seventy-one page document published by the NGO Human Rights Watch. Why is this report so important? It is important because it sheds a bright and unflattering light on Israel. Specifically it illuminated a small part of Operation Cast Lead and deflated Israeli claims of propriety and proportionality.

The U.S. corporate media is shocked; just shocked that Israel could be accused of such skullduggery. Whether from pressure or from force of habit the US corporate media repeated Israeli claims and justification with an excess of credulity. Defaulting to the standard of “reporting both sides of the story” the TV bobbleheads “debated” the tactics of Operation Cast Lead. The broadcasters were joined by their print brethren in giving the Israelis the benefit of the doubt despite the disparity between casualties suffered by the Palestinians and casualties suffered by the Israelis. This benefit was given despite the fact that for every Israeli who was killed by one of Hamas’ rockets or by Hamas gunman one hundred Palestinians died during Operation Cast Lead.

Still it was the virtually uncovered (by US Media sources) story of WP that lays bare Israel’s callousness toward Palestinian lives. In story after story uncovered by Human Rights Watch the savagery of these attacks is highlighted. It is gruesome reading about lives maimed or lost by the careless application of a very dangerous substance.

By air-bursting WP the Israelis insured a wide and indiscriminate dispersal over a densely populated area. The way WP was deployed insured that it would hit both property and people far and wide. WP deployed in this manner can only be described as an anti-personnel weapon. More to the point it is a chemical warfare attack on non-combatant personnel. Think Saddam Hussein gassing the Kurds way back in the 1980’s and you have an analogue. WP is an incendiary, it burns. It burns property, it burns people. When it comes into skin it not only burns via heat but it also poisons the body. WP causes deep burns that then become sites for the absorption of toxic phosphorus. Thus if the third degree burns don’t kill you the poisoning of your major organs will.

The claim that WP was used to attack terrorist cells in Gaza, specifically in the UN compound, fails the smell test. WP deployed in an air-burst is very indiscriminate in where it lands. It is just as likely to hit a UN worker as it is a Hamas bad guy—assuming that any bad guys might have been in the compound at the time of the shelling. If WP were to be legitimately used it would have been laid down in such a way as to provide a smoke screen for assaulting ground troops. WP was never used in such a manner during Operation Cast Lead. WP was deployed in a manner that suggests that it was used exclusively as incendiary, as a way to spread destruction, mayhem and terror amongst the Palestinians.

WP is very effective when used as a weapon of terror; at least temporarily. It made life hell for the fighters in Fallujah. Unfortunately it made life hell for many more innocent civilians who got in caught in the U.S. Marines deadly bombardment.
The Marines used a combination of standard high explosive shells and incendiaries to gain a psychological advantage against the insurgent fighters in Fallujah; they called the tactic “shake and bake.” The Israeli Army could have learned the tactic either directly from U.S. military or just adapted it from news reports coming out of Fallujah. An attempt to break the will of Hamas fighters by using “shake and bake” tactics by the Israelis is within the realm of possibility.

The evidence for WP use is very strong, iron clad actually. Israel has admitted to its use by a “reserve unit.”The only debate is how wide spread the use of WP was. As unexploded American-made WP munitions have been found strewn about the Gaza strip, the evidence points to wide-spread use. It points to a high Israeli tolerance for “collateral damage” among civilians to get at the “”Hamas Fighters” in the non-combatants midst. The Israelis sure couldn’t be bothered to provide for the safety or well being of the people of Beit Lahiya. The UN school there provided no refuge and the Israelis offered no quarter.

Despite this casual brutality the nation of Israel was unable to crush Hamas. It was unable to interdict the tunnels on the Egyptian tunnels. It was unable to halt the rocket attacks that were the supposed reason for the incursion by Israel. Hamas still rules Gaza, rockets are still fabricated in Gaza metal shops, and nothing has really changed at least tactically.

What has happened is that Israel has become much more coarsened and Israeli society has become more corrupt. The occupation has deepened the rot in the moral, cultural and political soul of Israel. Israel is much more willing to resort to casual brutality than it used to be. Israel is much more willing to avoid, ignore or contemptuously dismiss moral considerations. More and more Israel suffers from arrogance and hubris unwilling or unable to reign in political or military excess. The use of WP was prime example of such excess. The use of WP to root out supposed terrorists was well beyond any rational military consideration. It was burning down the village to save it from capture. It caused massive terror with minimum results. No terrorists were killed or captured but Israel did loose a huge PR battle. With the Israeli use of WP world opinion had a hard time discerning who the real terrorists were.
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