According to an article published in The New York Times on
Thursday,  The State Department is
investigating whether Israel’s use of American-made cluster bombs in southern
Lebanon violated secret agreements with the United States that restrict when it
can employ such weapons.

An investigation by the department’s Office of Defense Trade
Controls began this week, after reports that three types of American cluster
munitions, anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area, have
been found in many areas of southern Lebanon and were responsible for
civilian casualties, according to two officials.

The two officials were granted anonymity to discuss the
investigation because it involves sensitive diplomatic issues and agreements
that have been kept secret for years.

In addition to investigating use of the weapons in southern Lebanon, the State Department has held up a
shipment of M-26 artillery rockets, a cluster weapon, that Israel sought during the conflict,
the officials said.

Israeli officials acknowledged soon after their offensive
began last month that they were using cluster munitions against rocket sites
and other military targets. While Hezbollah positions were frequently hidden in
civilian areas, Israeli officials said their intention was to use cluster bombs
in open terrain.

But a report released Wednesday by the United
Nations Mine
Action Coordination
Center, which has personnel in Lebanon searching for unexploded ordnance, said
it had found unexploded bomblets, including hundreds of American types, in 249
locations south of the Litani

The report said American munitions found included 559
M-42’s, an anti-personnel bomblet used in 105-millimeter artillery shells; 663
M-77’s, a submunition found in M-26 rockets; and 5 BLU-63’s, a bomblet found in
the CBU-26 cluster bomb. Also found were 608 M-85’s, an Israeli-made

The unexploded submunitions being found in Lebanon are probably only a
fraction of the total number dropped. Cluster munitions can contain dozens or
even hundreds of submunitions designed to explode as they scatter around a wide
area. They are very effective against rocket-launcher units or ground troops.

The inquiry is likely to focus on whether Israel properly informed the United States
about its use of the weapons and whether targets were strictly military. So
far, the State Department is relying on reports from United Nations personnel
and nongovernmental organizations in southern Lebanon, the officials said.

The agreements that govern Israel’s use of American cluster
munitions go back to the 1970’s, when the first sales of the weapons occurred,
but the details of them have never been publicly confirmed. The first one was
signed in 1976 and later reaffirmed in 1978 after an Israeli incursion into Lebanon. News
accounts over the years have said that they require that the munitions be used
only against organized Arab armies and clearly defined military targets under
conditions similar to the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973.

A Congressional investigation after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon found that Israel had used the weapons against
civilian areas in violation of the agreements. In response, the Reagan
administration imposed a six-year ban on further sales of cluster weapons to Israel.

Bush administration officials warned Israel to avoid
civilian casualties, but they have lodged no public protests against its use of
cluster weapons. American officials say it has not been made clear whether the
weapons, which are also employed by the United
States military, were being used against civilian areas
and had been supplied by the United
States. Israel also makes its own types of
cluster weapons.

The Lebanese government has reported that the conflict
killed 1,183 people and wounded 4,054, most of them civilians. The United
Nations reported this week that the number of civilian casualties from cluster
munitions, land mines and unexploded bombs stood at 30 injured and eight
killed. These occurred after the cease-fire when Lebanese returned to their

Several current and former officials said that they doubted
the investigation would lead to sanctions against Israel
but that the decision to proceed with it might be intended to help the Bush
administration ease criticism from Arab governments and commentators over its
support of Israel’s
military operations. The investigation has not been publicly announced; but the
State Department confirmed it in response to questions.


*sourced from The New York Times