Sunday, October 29, 2006

Crimes Of War

Let's say you have a border skirmish between a legitimate nation and some cells of a terrorist group in a neighboring nation. The terrorist cells have also attempted to legitimize themselves both by getting elected to governmental posts and by actual grass-roots efforts in the community. This has allowed the group -- which may or may not actually be attempting to gain true political legitimacy, and abandon its violent origins, à la the IRA.

Now, let's say that in the context of the aforementioned skirmish, the aggrieved nation retaliated against this terrorist group by taking disproportionate measures, such as destroying the recently rebuilt infrastructure of the entire country, inflicting a roughly 12:1 civilian casualty rate, turning a quarter of the country's population into internal refugees, and dropping scores of cluster bombs, leaving countless unexploded bomblets to indiscriminately ravage further unsuspecting civilians. Still with me?

Now, let's say that in addition to the disproportionate level of retaliation and targeting of civilians and infrastructure, and the morally egregious cluster bombs, it turns out this nation also used enriched uranium and phosphorus bombs.

We know that the Israelis used American "bunker-buster" bombs on Hizbollah's Beirut headquarters. We know that they drenched southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of the war, leaving tens of thousands of bomblets which are still killing Lebanese civilians every week. And we now know - after it first categorically denied using such munitions - that the Israeli army also used phosphorous bombs, weapons which are supposed to be restricted under the third protocol of the Geneva Conventions, which neither Israel nor the United States have signed.

But scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium-based munitions may now also be included in Israel's weapons inventory - and were used against targets in Lebanon. According to Dr Chris Busby, the British Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures". Both have been forwarded for further examination to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire for mass spectrometry - used by the Ministry of Defence - which has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples.

If Iran or North Korea had done such things to their neighbors, considering the level and concentration of the provocation, we'd be twisting arms at the UN to commence bombing at once, and rightly so.

This summer's Lebanon war began after Hizbollah guerrillas crossed the Lebanese frontier into Israel, captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others, prompting Israel to unleash a massive bombardment of Lebanon's villages, cities, bridges and civilian infrastructure. Human rights groups have said that Israel committed war crimes when it attacked civilians, but that Hizbollah was also guilty of such crimes because it fired missiles into Israel which were also filled with ball-bearings, turning their rockets into primitive one-time-only cluster bombs.

Many Lebanese, however, long ago concluded that the latest Lebanon war was a weapons testing ground for the Americans and Iranians, who respectively supply Israel and Hizbollah with munitions. Just as Israel used hitherto-unproven US missiles in its attacks, so the Iranians were able to test-fire a rocket which hit an Israeli corvette off the Lebanese coast, killing four Israeli sailors and almost sinking the vessel after it suffered a 15-hour on-board fire.

I have no illusions whatsoever about who the good guys and bad guys are here, but the fact of the matter is that the response was disproportionate and inhumane based on what was known at the time, and now looks to be even worse than previously assumed. This is despicable, but not surprising, least of all to the provocateurs themselves, who deserve a certain amount of blame for expecting the response they got, and putting the civilian population in danger with sheer disregard anyway.

Still. Spontaneously combusting infant corpses. Radioactive pollution with genuinely unforeseeable consequences. Munitions which essentially function as above-ground mines, to rend and shred the innocent who stumble upon them. Is this victory, much less a moral one?

1 comment:

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