Moshe Kaplinsky

Harvard Business School, expected in fall 2007

Cluster Bombs -- An Indiscriminate Weapon

On 8 August 2006, in a desperate last-minute move to avert defeat, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the head of the Israeli military, appointed his deputy, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky as his "personal representative" on the northern front, "to coordinate land, sea, and air operations in Lebanon." The move effectively put Kaplinsky in charge of the war effort, sidelining Northern Command head Maj. Gen. Udi Adam (Adam resigned in disgrace after the war).

Under Kaplinsky's command, the Israeli military fired more than 3.5 million cluster bombs in the last three days of the war (90% of all the clusters used by Israel during the conflict). The clusters indiscriminately blanketed whole swathes of southern Lebanon even after Israel had agreed to withdraw from Lebanon under a UN cease-fire resolution. Up to one million bomblets did not explode but rather remain scattered in homes, fields, trees, and schools, waiting to be set off by anyone passing by.

The density of cluster bomb use in Lebanon in 2006 was unprecedented, rendering a quarter of the cultivatable land in southern Lebanon too dangerous to farm. As of 22 April 2007, 30 people were killed and 203 injured by cluster bombs left over from the war.

The Gift that Keeps on Killing

A worldwide movement has sprung up to restrict and eradicate the use of clusters as an inherently inhuman and gratuitously cruel weapon that causes superfluous harm and unnecessary suffering. A cluster bomb is essentially a bomb that, when detonated, scatters many tiny explosives ("bomblets" or "submunitions") over a large area that then explode in turn.

Unexploded cluster "submunition" in southern Lebanon

Cluster bombs are considered indiscriminate for two reasons: One, as dispersion weapons, they are inherently difficult to aim at specific targets and therefore more likely to hit civilians or civilian targets. When used in built-up or urban areas, they are almost inevitably indiscriminate. Two, many of the tiny bombs do not explode on impact (10-40%), but instead lurk unnoticed in homes, fields, streets, and schools until set off by someone who unknowingly comes by, even years later. The UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague has convicted defendants for the use of cluster bombs against civilian areas [full text].

In February, the Christian Science Monitor documented the case of a Lebanese farmer and his family afflicted by leftover clusters after the war:
"... Mohammed blames himself for picking up the small metal cylinder and putting it in his bag while cutting thyme in a field that had been marked with red and white warning tape.

Just after nightfall, with the house lit only by a few candles, his 4-year-old daughter Aya Zayoun found the cluster bomb in her father's bag outside. She took it inside to the living room and handed it to her older sister, Rasha, who thought it was a toy bell.

Then it exploded.

'[Mohammed] was ready to kill himself with the guilt,' says mother Alia Salman, who was struck with small pieces of shrapnel during the Jan. 5 incident. Son Qassem was hit, too, and 16-year-old Rasha lost her lower leg.

'It's a big shock for [Mohammed] to see his daughter without her leg. Every time he looks at her, his heart is bleeding,' says Mrs. Salman.

She says Rasha was 'like a genie, jumping around, strong and tough.' But now the mother's tears well when Rasha shows the bandaged stump; and Aya clings to her mother shyly, still smarting from being pointed out as 'the little girl who carried [the cluster bomb] inside.'"

Victim of a cluster bomb attack in Lebanon

Until an area is cleared of cluster bombs, it is unsafe for people to live, work, or farm. Yet cleaning up cluster bombs is expensive, difficult, and extremely time-consuming. In short, cluster bombs are inaccurate and unreliable weapons whose harm to civilians generally outweighs any potential military advantage -- especially in the case of Lebanon, where Israel knew that the war was over and had already agreed to withdraw its troops.

Kaplinsky in Command

Throughout most of the war, Israeli use of cluster bombs was fairly limited. Things radically towards the end of the war. Kaplinsky assumed command of the war effort on 8 August; two days later, the New York Times reported an urgent Israeli request to the U.S. for expedited delivery of M-26 artillery rockets armed with cluster bombs.

On 12 August, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed that the ceasefire would begin on 14 August and that Israel would withdraw in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution. Yet Israel accelerated its military campaign, with largely disastrous results.

In the last 72 hours of the conflict -- until minutes before the ceasefire took effect on the morning of 14 August -- Israeli forces scattered up to 4 million cluster submunitions across at least 873 strike locations in southern Lebanon. Some 60% of the attacks were aimed at built-up areas, hitting 90 towns and villages. The number of clusters was more than that dropped by the US in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq (2003) combined -- in a far smaller geographical area.

The suddenness, scale, and intensity of cluster bomb usage greatly disturbed Israeli officers as well. One artillery commander, whose unit fired 1.2 million cluster submunitions, told a reporter, "What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs." The same journalist interviewed a reservist identified as "S.":
"'Tell me, how do the villages there look? Are they all destroyed?' S. asked me after I told him that I was in contact with UN personnel who were patrolling the villages. What really made something inside S. snap was when his battalion was given an entire village as a target one night. He thinks it was Taibeh, a village in what is called the eastern sector, but he's not sure. The battalion commander assembled the men and told them that the whole village had been divided into parts and that each team was supposed to 'flood' its alloted space - without specific targets, simply to bombard the village." [emphasis added]
Senior UN humanitarian official David Shearer called Israel's cluster use "Outrageous because by that stage the conflict had been largely resolved in the form of Resolution 1701." "If cluster bombs were used in populated areas, this constitutes an indescribable crime," said Ran Cohen, a left-Zionist parliamentarian and reserve artillery officer. "The massive use by the IDF of cluster bombs during the war suggests an absolute loss of control and hysteria."

The Israeli military admitted to firing cluster bombs in civilian areas, claiming that some attacks had been against the orders of the general staff. An internal investigation into the matter was reportedly opened in November 2006. No findings have been announced.

It also appears that the Israeli military, for budgetary reasons, used older U.S.-made cluster bombs with higher "dud" rates than newer Israeli versions, and thus more dangerous to civilians. A secret U.S. State Department inquiry reportedly found that Israel's use of cluster bombs may have violated bilateral U.S.-Israel agreements.