Israel turns to cluster bombs which self-defuse

By Yaakov Katz, December 11, 2008
A cluster bomblet

A cluster bomblet

Following huge criticism of IDF conduct during the 2006 Lebanon War, the Defence Ministry has decided to stop buying American-made cluster bombs and to begin equipping artillery forces with a local product that has an internal self-destruct mechanism.

Israel’s use of cluster bombs against Hizbollah has become the focus of a campaign to ban the use of the weapon in future conflicts. Last week in Oslo, 93 countries — including Great Britain — signed a treaty banning cluster bombs. Israel and the United States did not attend.

Under the treaty, signatories have agreed to refrain from using cluster bombs and to destroy existing stockpiles.

According to a top Israeli defence official, cluster bombs were an effective weapon when fighting against guerilla groups like Hizbollah that operate in forestry areas. Cluster bomblets, which can be as small as a flashlight battery, are packed into artillery shells. A single container typically scatters some 200 to 600 of the mini-explosives over an area the size of a football field.

Israel is accused of dropping close to four million cluster bomblets over Lebanon during the 2006 war. According to the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre, many bomblets were later detonated by accident, killing 20 civilians and wounding close to 200.

As a result of the collateral damage and international condemnation, the IDF has decided — ahead of any potential new conflict with Hizbollah — to purchase the M85 cluster bomb manufactured by the government-owned Israeli Military Industries (IMI).

The IMI-made bomblet has an internal self-destruct mechanism which destroys the mini-explosive if it fails to detonate upon impact.

“The self-destruct mechanism takes care of one of the main problems,” said one IMI official. “Some of the bomblets do not explode when they hit the ground and remain lethal to the local civilian population. The self-destruct fuse eliminates that threat.”

Last updated: 11:57am, December 11 2008