ArmsCommentaryMiddle EastWar

Despite Its Pledge, Israel (Again) Resorts to Using White Phosphorus Weapons

In the US we should care, as our tax money support the destruction of Gaza.

Hidden away in the mainstream media’s coverage of events in the unraveling Middle East is the disturbing, but not surprising, report by The Washington Post that US-manufactured white phosphorus shells have been used by Israel on a Lebanese village.

The outlet reported that these munitions were manufactured in “ammunition depots in Louisiana and Arkansas in 1989 and 1992.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Israel’s last reported use of this weapon was in (you guessed it) Gaza “from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009.”

Israel “exploded white phosphorus munitions in the air over populated areas, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital.” Sound familiar?

White Phosphorus

When exposed to air, white phosphorus “burns at extremely high temperatures [1,500 degrees Fahrenheit/815 degrees Celsius] and often starts fires in the areas in which it is deployed. People exposed to white phosphorus can suffer respiratory damage, organ failure and other horrific and life-changing injuries, including burns that are extremely difficult to treat and cannot be put out with water. Burns affecting only 10 percent of the body are often fatal,” according to Amnesty International.

In 2013 Israel pledged to stop using these incendiary weapons. In the wake of its current scorched earth policy against Hamas and the residents of Gaza, it has decided to ignore that promise.

This time the residents of the Lebanese border town of Dheira were the recipients of the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) shelling. Ninety-four people have been killed in the area since the conflict with Hamas began on October 7.

The Post quoted Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who said “Israel’s use of the munition has “killed civilians and produced irreversible damage to more than 5 million square meters of forests and farmland, in addition to damaging thousands of olive trees.”

The military objective is to halt Hezbollah’s attacks against the IDF from Lebanon’s southern border with Israel and prevent a wider regional conflict.

That is hardly an excuse for the IDF to terrorize innocent civilians of a sovereign nation. Yet, with some 18,000 Palestinians killed — more than 6,600 of them children — and 1.3 million Gaza residents displaced by IDF actions in Gaza, no weapon or territory appears to be off limits.

Palestinians Gaza
Palestinians evacuate following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP

US Should Care

The Post quoted an unnamed defense department official, who said, “We take reports of its unlawful use seriously. We continue to underscore the importance of international humanitarian law compliance, both publicly and privately, in our conversations with our Israeli partners.”

I doubt that Israel cares what anyone thinks — even its most generous benefactor.

But here in the United States we should care. Our tax monies support the destruction of Gaza. In 2022, some 99.7 percent of the staggering $3.3 billion in US foreign aid we give to that nation went directly to the Israeli military. The 3.3 billion is 4.8 percent of all US foreign aid doled out that year.

Citing statistics from the US Agency for International Development, since WWII Israel has received more foreign aid than any other nation: $317.9 billion. In fact, there isn’t even a nation close second to that amount. In second place is Vietnam: $184 billion, followed by Egypt at $182.3 billion. (Hello, indicted Sen. Menendez, loyal proxy for the Egyptian government.)

US and Israel
US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands. Photo: Debbie Hill/AFP

Powerful Lobbyist

Sadly, the defense industry in the United States is a vital employment engine in our country, so enmeshed in our economy that a war and its insatiable need for munitions, planes, tanks, and cluster bombs can be viewed in a positive GNP light. And it is a “gross national product” that we continue to export.

Powerful lobbyists for Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, or Northrup Grumman, the three largest US defense contractors, run the show in Washington, and no one would dare criticize these companies or deny them their bloated contracts.

(Furthermore, no American politician that wants to keep his or her Congressional seat warm would dare oppose Israel. That would be political suicide. University presidents should also parse their words when criticizing Israel.)

Exporting Weapons

In plain terms, our country exports products that maim and kill. We are in fact the world’s largest exporter of weapons, accounting for an astonishing 40 percent of the global total during the years 2018-2022, up from 33 percent in the years 2013-2017.

I find it amazing that India, a country with shocking poverty, debilitating pollution, and a diminishing democracy, leads the world in weapons imports.

We blithely keep churning out arms and selling them for profit, but never hearing the screams or witnessing firsthand the brutal horrors those munitions cause.

As for the effects of Israel’s recent use of white phosphorus on innocent residents in Lebanon, here is how Uday Abu Sari, a farmer trapped in his home for five hours and now suffering respiratory problems, described it to The Post:  “Emergency services told us to put something that was soaked in water on our faces, which helped a bit. I couldn’t see my finger in front of my face. The whole village became white.”

The town of 2,000 is now mostly deserted.

Headshot Stephen LyonsStephen J. Lyons (@lyonssj55) is author of six books of reportage and essays, most recently Searching for Home: Misadventures with Misanthropes (Finishing Line Press).

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.

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