Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Israel "Likely" Broke Rules on Cluster Bombs? - Not!

This story is from The Daily Star, probably the best English-language Arab newspaper in the middle east:
The United States said on Monday that Israel "likely" violated an agreement with Washington in its use of US-made cluster bombs during the 2006 war against Lebanon.

"There were likely violations," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday as the department sent Congress a preliminary report on its investigation of Israel's use of cluster-bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon during the summer war.

It is up the Congress to decide whether the issue will be investigated further, he said.

Under the US Arms Export Control Act, if the US government believes a foreign country violated agreements over how US-made weapons were used, the administration must draw up a report and send its findings to Congress....

...Israel has defended its right to use cluster bombs and says it only deploys them in accordance with international law.

And this is from the "horse's mouth":
QUESTION: The State Department report to Congress about use of cluster bombs by Israel and Lebanon, could you tell us -- you were quoted this morning saying on the wires there likely were violations.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, let me -- we'll back up, give you the long form explanation here. We can answer questions about it. Don't believe everything you read in the wires. (Laughter.) Just kidding. Just kidding, guys. Wanted to make sure you guys were still awake up front here.

Under the Arms Export Control Act there's language in there that says that if a country has -- likely has violated the terms of its agreements with the United States, then you -- then that triggers a report to the Congress. Now, the question then becomes what kind of agreements are you talking about. Well, anytime throughout the licensing process of selling armaments and weapons to foreign countries, the United States typically will negotiate along with the licenses various end use agreements and in some cases agreements that specify under what kinds of conditions those armaments and munitions can be used.

In the case of cluster munitions with Israel, we have in place one of those such agreements. And so the question then arises, which the Israelis themselves are investigating right now, as to in what way the munitions were employed and in the manner of their use, did that in some way contravene the agreement between the United States and Israel. So after looking into the matter in the wake of the Hezbollah-Israel war, we work cooperatively with the Israeli Government, take a look at the facts, take a look at the agreement that was in place and then take a look at the legal requirements as specified in the law. And it was the determination based on the facts that we in a preliminary finding -- I have to emphasize preliminary, it's not a final judgment -- that there may likely could have been [emphasis added] some violations of that agreement....

"likely could have been" doesn't mean "likely".
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you refuse to comment on whether it would be hard to imagine if the United States Government would be -- would allow an agreement with anybody to allow cluster bombs against civilians.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, obviously the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel was one between Hezbollah and Hezbollah fighters which engaged in an act of aggression against Israel. They crossed an international border. They started a war. So clearly the conflict was between those two parties.

Now, you and your editors will decide exactly how it is you describe my comments. I can't write your copy for you. Sometimes I wish I could. It's just an area that I can't get into. It gets into the realm of classified information. We are trying to be as forthright and open as we possibly can with regard to this matter. I know it's of interest to you, but there are certain lines that I can't cross.

(Note: The Daily Star heavily based its article on this story from Associated Press.)

Then why is the U.S. investigating Israel's use of cluster bombs at all? To tantalize and appease the Arabs? Perhaps, but the September 2006 Library of Congress report contains this oddity: the Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls also reportedly is conducting an investigation focused on whether Israel violated confidential agreements with the United States that restrict Israel’s use of U.S.-supplied cluster munitions to certain military targets in non-civilian areas.

A very strange twist, I think: Israel may have violated U.S. "confidential agreements" by going after some military (but not civilian) targets that the U.S. wanted left alone. That could be the "real" purpose of the State Department's investigation into Israel's use of cluster bombs. So it appears that the accusation the rest of the world keeps tossing around, that Israel's use of cluster bombs was an inhuman violation of international law, may not an issue with the U.S. at all.

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