Sunday, September 03, 2006
Of Cluster Bombs and Cluster-Fucks
F-16I--Israel-specific version of the US manufactured F-16 includes upper fuselage mounted external fuel tanks for increased radius/time over battlefield that also "free-up" the two largest capacity underwing hardpoints for increased bombload. The IAF has approx 330 Fighter-Bombers (F-15 and F-16) s and 50 A-4 ground attack aircraft.
The F16I is wicked gorgeous IMHO (but only as long as you are the pilot) . If you are the recipient of its capablities, it has to be terrifying.
When Hezbollah conducted a cross-border ambush of an Israeli patrol, killing 8 and capturing two, Israel could have responded they way usually do (and the way Hezbollah expected them to) —by launching a public, token punitive raid of their own whilst developing negotiations and formulating a rescue plan in private.
Instead Ehud Olmert took the radical decision of launching a war intended to “smash” militant Hezbollah and force the return of the two military captives.
In other words, because a militant group over which the one-year old Lebanese government had little control had engaged in a criminal act against military personnel, the entire Lebanese nation would have to pay for the transgressions of a few.
After bombing national entry and exit points (the airport, sea-ports and border crossings), the IAF (Israeli Air Force) then bombed communications centers, transportation facilities and roads--anything that served an urban society that might also serve an urban military. This strategy hindered or prevented externally-sourced re-supply and support as well as movement for Olmert’s declared target Hezbollah, which, were it a discrete military force with clear logistical communications would make perfect military sense by confining Hezbollah militants to one areas and subjecting them to a siege that would be relieved either by surrender or destruction.
As the militant Hezbollah were not a discrete military force with easily identifiable military bases, personnel and equipment but instead a militia integrated with the general population in towns and villages, the ‘containment’ strategy also meant containing civilians too, in the geographic arena where Hezbollah was supposed to be ‘smashed’.
In an effort to separate civilians from militants Olmert allowed the southern Lebanese some 24 hours to evacuate from the declared target area. This magnanimity however risked undermining the military containment strategy, so whilst bombing suspected Hezbollah-riddled civilian centers was temporarily halted no such moratorium was applied to the potential escape routes; thus civilians were given a day to decide whether to be bombed at home or bombed when they left.
Apart from preventing civilian evacuation to clear the way for classic military-vs-military warfare, Olmert’s military strategy also hindered ordinary humanitarian aid both from within Lebanon and especially from without. It also hindered the evacuation of foreigners, many of whom were citizens of Israel’s traditional allies, and I suspect it was those people that the 24-hour warning was meant to serve more than anyone else, but thanks to the strategy in place even that concession to civilians and innocents fell short of the practical, let alone the ideal.
The US government didn’t voice actual approval of Olmert’s actions but it didn’t condemn them either and that should come as no surprise to anyone. What was surprising to me (sort of) was that the US gave tacit approval not through the usual guff of “we’re analyzing the situation” but by essentially stating that Olmert had at least two weeks to “defend itself”. The continued launching of large salvoes of retaliatory Katyusha rocket attacks by Hezbollah gave a clear indication of the ineffectiveness of the IAF’s bombing campaign. Instead of changing the patently flawed strategy, it was decided that more bombs were needed which, as the IAF had already expended much of its supplies, were quickly provided by the US.
As soon as the shaky ceasefire went into effect, NGO’s, UN personnel and reporters were able to move in and assess conditions on the ground. But though the air strikes had stopped, the bombing campaign in essence was still ongoing courtesy of the cluster bombs--supplied in significant part by the US.
A recent report by the BBC showed reporter Orla Guerlin (possibly the world’s most experienced television reporter of armed conflict) pointing out a dozen bomblets scattered around the remains of a Lebanese home. The bomblets shown appeared to be of an American anti-armor type, dull grey and about the size of a soda-can (US anti- personnel bomblets resemble the typical tuna-can, squat and wide).
Now why would the IAF use anti-tank cluster-bombs when Hezbollah doesn’t have any tanks? Because that’s what was most readily available from the US? Because dropping anti-personnel bomblets in civilian areas would be a clear violation of international law governing their use?
Manufacturers of CBU (Cluster Bomb Unit) bomblets claim they will explode on impact (as they are supposed to) 95% of the time, but in the real world the failure rate has proven to be 70% to 90%. CBUs release anywhere from around 200 to 600 bomblets, meaning that anywhere from 10 (5% of 200) to 200 (30% of 600) won’t explode on impact but may well explode upon being disturbed later on.
Regardless of whether cluster-bombs are configured with anti-armor or anti-personnel bomblets they are ONLY allowed to be used against distinctly military targets and NOT in civilian areas. Clearly the IAF has disregarded this restriction (just as the US has in Iraq).
According to Jan Egelund of the UN the IAF dropped the majority of their cluster bombs in the last three days leading up to the ceasefire. The US had been supplying the IAF with more cluster bombs for nearly two-weeks by that time. And since the ceasefire UN investigators report having found approximately 100,000 unexploded bomblets at 359 sites. Even when one allows for exaggeration ther is still the potential that as many people could be killed afte the cease-fire as before it, and most of them will be civilians.
The US State Department is now investigating how US-supplied cluster-bombs came to be used by our steadfast ally Israel on civilian areas (against an enemy they couldn’t see that didn’t have any tanks) which would be a contravention of US policy and law. Given the US government’s record thus far regarding illegal actions by the military and “wrongdoing” by the military’s suppliers I wouldn’t expect anything to come it.
It’s pretty obvious that both Olmert’s strategy and execution was conducted with a calculated disregard of civilian casualties especially towards the Lebanese but also in part towards Israeli civilians too; and let’s not forget his sledgehammer campaign also risked the lives of the two IDF hostages (and encouraged large scale retaliation against Israeli civilians). Added to this is the US complicity not just in Olmert’s craptacular strategy that couldn’t possibly deliver on its promised aims, but also in the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. With the evidence of a two-week bombing campaign already common knowledge, for the US to supply anti-tank CBUs to the IAF upon urgent request against targets that had no armor, on some assurance that they would not be used against civilians is beyond naivety or stupidity, it’s just criminal .
Hezbollah’s initial raid violated all kinds of statues and Israel had every right to use similar force to redress the situation. Instead Israel effectively went to war against Lebanon as a whole, though they did not engage the Lebanese army (who remained notably absent throughout the conflict). The strategy of simply bombing an enemy dispersed amongst civilians and near impossible to distinguish from them guaranteed both significant civilian deaths and the failure of the declared mission.
Olmert’s strategy failed to smash Hezbollah and recover the two soldiers. Israel had enough problems with Syria, the Palestinians and Hezbollah anyway. Now it has bolstered support for Hezbollah and given the rest of the Lebanese cause for revenge.
The regular Israeli population unsurprisingly supportive of the initial response soon realized the dangers of Olmert’s war and are now calling for his head. The IDF was given goals it simply couldn’t achieve despite its long proven effectiveness so now with its reputation diminished Israel’s national security has been compromised.
The parallels between Bush’s and Olmert’s strategies and execution are remarkable and the lesson is pretty clear: universal use of cluster-bombs (rhetorical, metaphorical and actual) to solve perceived problems invariably results in a cluster-fuck.