Lebanon's Litani: Will it become Unlivable?
For nearly five weeks, this part of Lebanon has been on the receiving end of hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives fired by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) air, naval, infantry, armor, and artillery units. Similarly, northern Israel to a depth of approximately 18 miles (down to Haifa) has been subjected to daily barrages of Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah militia units.
The intensity of the fighting and tenacity of the combatants are reflected in the casualty figures (at least 123 Israelis, including 40 civilians) and 861 Lebanese, mostly civilians) and the duration of the fighting. Since the 1956 “Suez War,” when France, Britain, and Israel attempted to reverse the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt’s President Nasser, only once has the IDF been in sustained combat for more than two months. That was in 1982 when Israeli ground forces pushed the Palestine Liberation Organization north of Beirut – ironically the same military incursion that gave birth to Hezbollah.
In mid-July, Israel asked the U.S. to expedite delivery of 100 GBU-28 laser-guided 5,000-pound bombs whose purchase had been approved by the U.S. last year as part of a large munitions purchase by the IDF. Now Israel has requested the U.S. provide M-26 artillery shells, a “cluster munition”
This is a request the U.S. should deny for operational, humanitarian, and diplomatic reasons.
Cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines are frequently considered to be the same category of weapon. However, there are differences in the manner in which they are employed on a battlefield and in the user’s intent. That said, operationally the two systems have the same defects: they are indiscriminate area weapons that can remain dangerous to military forces and civilians long after the immediate battle ends – sometimes for years.
Cluster munitions commonly are delivered by artillery shells such as the M-26. As the shell arcs toward the target area, the outer casing opens, scattering as many as 644 “bomblets" over an area that can be as large as 100 acres. The bomblets are intended to explode when they hit the ground or some other solid object. Because the dispersal pattern is irregular, there is no pattern or “footprint” that could help bomb disposal teams identity likely locations for unexploded ordnance (UXO). And with cluster munitions, there can be anywhere from 5 to 22 percent of the bomblets that are duds or, for other reasons do not explode and remain armed, waiting to be picked up, kicked, or otherwise disturbed.
In 1978, the Defense Department provided Israel with cluster bombs after Tel Aviv agreed not to use them against civilians. But in Operation Litani, Israel did use them. The Carter administration suspended further transfers, a suspension later lifter by the Reagan administration.
Secondly, with regard to humanitarian concerns, anti-personnel landmines are more likely inflict trauma to limbs whereas cluster munitions, which have more explosives than landmines, are more lethal. Moreover, as already mentioned, the propensity for high numbers of UXOs can pose significant risks month and even years later for unaware or uninformed noncombatants.
Thirdly, the use of cluster bombs will complicate the efforts to fashion not only a verifiable cease fire but also the comprehensive peace that all parties profess is their objective. Nations that might otherwise volunteer to participate in an initial mission to verify troop withdrawals and the end of hostilities between the warring parties could well hold back because of the increased risk to their nations from bomblets. In the long view, the time needed for and the cost of reconstruction, recovery, and resumption of normal, legal pursuits by the permanent residents of south Lebanon, will be lengthened exponentially.
Moreover, to judge from the media, even the IDF seems divided. On one hand it is seeking the M-26. On the other, they are dropping leaflets in Beirut telling the Lebanese that Hezbollah is concealing the extent of its true losses in fighters and rockets – implying that Hezbollah is about to collapse.
Whether true or simply wishful thinking, the only rational way forward is to stop the killing – now.