White phosphorus shells used by Israeli forces in an October attack on a Lebanese village that human rights advocates say should be investigated as a war crime were provided by the U.S., a new investigation finds.
According to The Washington Post, production markings on the shells that Israel used on the southern border village of Dhayra indicate that they were made in Louisiana and Arkansas, in 1989 and 1992, arms experts confirmed. At least one of the shells found by the investigation was from the same production batch of white phosphorus that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used in densely populated areas of Gaza in 2009 in extensive attacks that Human Rights Watch has deemed a war crime.
The report confirms many details from an Amnesty International investigation published in October, which found that Israeli forces had used white phosphorus indiscriminately on a residential area, sending some residents to the hospital and coating the village in a toxic white smoke for hours afterwards.
White phosphorus is used in the context of war to create a smokescreen, but when it comes in contact with people it turns into an extremely caustic weapon, burning at up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit — melting clothing, skin and bones, and also causing major damage to internal organs when inhaled. International law specifies that white phosphorus should not be used in or around populated areas because of its ability to harm people and cause fires.
The Israeli military claims that it was using the substance in compliance with international humanitarian law, but as the Post investigation points out, Israel possesses other, safer alternatives for creating a smoke screen.
Further, the shells were fired over several hours in the evening when white phosphorus would be effectively redundant to provide cover. The investigation’s interviews with residents of the village found the people speculating that Israel used the rounds to force them to evacuate so that it could expand its military activity in the area; indeed, most residents fled the town after the phosphorus attack, which they have dubbed the “black night.”
Amnesty International has called for Israel’s use of the substance to be investigated as a war crime, while Human Rights Watch has directly said that the attack violates international law. If this is true, it follows that munitions provided by the U.S. to Israel were used to commit a war crime. This should, in theory, prompt an investigation under U.S. law into the IDF unit responsible for the attack for violations of human rights carried out using U.S. military aid.
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Tirana Hassan told The Washington Post that the findings should give pause to officials and lawmakers seeking to give Israel more military support.
“The fact that U.S.-produced white phosphorus is being used by Israel in south Lebanon should be of great concern to U.S. officials,” Hassan said. “[Congress] should take reports of Israel’s use of white phosphorus seriously enough to reassess U.S. military aid to Israel.”
The investigation comes as Israel shows signs of escalating its attacks in fighting with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Human Rights Watch has also highlighted an Israeli strike on a car containing a family, which the group says is a war crime. On November 5, Israeli forces carried out a precise strike on a vehicle traveling in Lebanon that they said contained terrorists, but which actually contained civilian members of a journalists’ family. The attack killed three children, aged 10, 12 and 14, and their grandmother. Their mother, who was also in the car, was also injured.
The investigation also comes as lawmakers and advocates call for further scrutiny of Israel’s use of American weapons in Gaza as it commits a litany of alleged war crimes there.