Human Rights Watch Official Questions Israeli Safety Measures in War on Lebanon

October 10, 2006
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Marc Garlasco

Israel's campaign to destroy Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon this summer raise questions about precautions the Israeli government took to limit the number of civilian casualties, said Marc Garlasco at a Human Rights Program talk Sept. 26.

Garlasco works in the terrorism/anti-terrorism division of Human Rights Watch and is the organization's resident expert on battle damage assessment, military operation, and interrogations. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, Garlasco spent seven years in the Pentagon as a senior intelligence officer.

Garlasco and other Human Rights Watch staff did not initially travel to Lebanon to cover the war. Two months prior to the start of the conflict, the organization set up an office in Beirut to work on women's rights issues in Lebanon.

Once bombing started, Garlasco traveled to Hezbollah territory in southern Lebanon and experienced firsthand the massive bombings by the Israelis. Although he encountered bombing while covering the Iraq war, Garlasco said that this onslaught was even more impressive.

"When you're that close to bombs, you have a new appreciation for it."

Garlasco and his crew decided to head to Northern Lebanon, where they saw less intense bombing, as Israelis primarily struck at the infrastructure. Garlasco showed pictures of glass factories, milk factories, television buildings, and bridges all destroyed by dozens of 2,000-pound bombs. Garlasco said he understood why the Israelis decided to knock out the country's infrastructure, but he questioned their targets. "It would be hard to hide rockets in the milk factory," he said. "Next to the milk factory were hangars that were not hit, but it would be more plausible to store rockets in those places."

Garlasco also had suspicions about how the Israelis bombed Lebanese bridges, "At first, it seemed plausible to knock out the bridges," Garlasco said, "but then, it looked piece-meal." Some bridges were totally destroyed while others were hit but still navigable. Garlasco witnessed Hezbollah artillery trucks taking a side road where the bridge was bombed, then getting back on the bridge a few miles further down.

Bombs dropped by Israeli planes were equipped with GPS and laser-guidance to ensure that specific targets were hit. The Israelis also used bombs that burrowed deep into the target to limit collateral damage to adjacent buildings that were not intended targets. Despite such measures to limit civilian casualties, Garlasco noted that not all of the bombings exhibited the same amount of precaution. A convent was bombed at noon, for example. According to Garlasco, if the Israelis wanted to limit civilian casualties, they would have bombed the convent late at night when fewer civilians were around.

As the cease-fire drew near, the bombing intensified. Immediately before the cease-fire, the Israelis dropped 20 2,000-pound bombs on southern Lebanon, Garlasco said. After the cease-fire, many people who traveled from southern Lebanon to northern Lebanon to avoid the bombings attempted to drive south back to their homes, which made traffic a nightmare. "It took five hours to go 18 kilometers," Garlasco said.

However, once the cease-fire was announced, Hezbollah claimed a "divine victory" and there were posters and banners posted throughout the city claiming that Israel was defeated. Some of the banners were in English. "So who is the audience here?" Garlasco asked.

After the cease-fire, Garlasco and his team surveyed the damaged areas of northern Lebanon. They found a number of un-exploded bombs without guidance cartridges, which would imply that Israel failed to take all necessary precautions to limit civilian casualties. While it is possible that the guidance package could have torn off on impact, there were some un-exploded bombs with guidance packs still intact.

"Why would they be using dumb bombs in really dense urban areas?" Garlasco asked.

In the war's aftermath, Garlasco said that the biggest problem facing the Lebanese is the un-exploded submunitions. Submunitions are dozens of miniature bombs inside one larger bomb. Once the larger bomb hits its target, it opens, sending the miniature bombs flying out to detonate on contact. In the Iraq War, the United States used submunitions, but only on the outskirts of civilian areas. Israel used its submunitions in dense civilian areas and near hospitals.

"As everyone knew that the cease-fire was going into effect, that's when we saw the massive use of submunitions," he said. In the last three to four days of the war, the Israelis used at least 1.2 million submunitions. "The Israelis did give warning before the increased bombing, but since so many went un-detonated, people returned to their homes with as many as four un-detonated submunitions in and around it, turning southern Lebanon into a "de-facto mine field." Garlasco pointed out that Israeli-manufactured submunitions have a 2 percent dud rate and the U.S.-manufactured submunitions have a 20 percent failure rate. Most of the unexploded submunitions Garlasco and his co-workers found were U.S.-manufactured.

Although the war is over, Lebanese citizens are still in danger. Dozens of people have died because un-detonated submunitions exploded while they were trying to clean up their houses. "We're looking at possibly 500,000 unexploded cluster bombs and at this point, the U.N. has cleared 25,000."

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