Secret Uranium Bomb
By Robert Fisk
30 October, 2006
Israel use a secret new uranium-based weapon in southern Lebanon this
summer in the 34-day assault that cost more than 1,300 Lebanese lives,
most of them civilians?
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.
Dr Busby's initial report
states that there are two possible reasons for the contamination. "The
first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission
device or other experimental weapon (eg, a thermobaric weapon) based
on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash ... The second
is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator
weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium."
A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of
black smoke that might result from burning uranium.
Enriched uranium is produced
from natural uranium ore and is used as fuel for nuclear reactors. A
waste productof the enrichment process is depleted uranium, it is an
extremely hard metal used in anti-tank missiles for penetrating armour.
Depleted uranium is less radioactive than natural uranium, which is
less radioactive than enriched uranium.
Israel has a poor reputation
for telling the truth about its use of weapons in Lebanon. In 1982,
it denied using phosphorous munitions on civilian areas - until journalists
discovered dying and dead civilians whose wounds caught fire when exposed
I saw two dead babies who,
when taken from a mortuary drawer in West Beirut during the Israeli
siege of the city, suddenly burst back into flames. Israel officially
denied using phosphorous again in Lebanon during the summer - except
for "marking" targets - even after civilians were photographed
in Lebanese hospitals with burn wounds consistent with phosphorous munitions.
Then on Sunday, Israel suddenly
admitted that it had not been telling the truth. Jacob Edery, the Israeli
minister in charge of government-parliament relations, confirmed that
phosphorous shells were used in direct attacks against Hizbollah, adding
that "according to international law, the use of phosphorous munitions
is authorised and the (Israeli) army keeps to the rules of international
Asked by The Independent
if the Israeli army had been using uranium-based munitions in Lebanon
this summer, Mark Regev, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said:
"Israel does not use any weaponry which is not authorised by international
law or international conventions." This, however, begs more questions
than it answers. Much international law does not cover modern uranium
weapons because they were not invented when humanitarian rules such
as the Geneva Conventions were drawn up and because Western governments
still refuse to believe that their use can cause long-term damage to
the health of thousands of civilians living in the area of the explosions.
American and British forces
used hundreds of tons of depleted uranium (DU) shells in Iraq in 1991
- their hardened penetrator warheads manufactured from the waste products
of the nuclear industry - and five years later, a plague of cancers
emerged across the south of Iraq.
Initial US military assessments
warned of grave consequences for public health if such weapons were
used against armoured vehicles. But the US administration and the British
government later went out of their way to belittle these claims. Yet
the cancers continued to spread amid reports that civilians in Bosnia
- where DU was also used by Nato aircraft - were suffering new forms
of cancer. DU shells were again used in the 2003 Anglo-American invasion
of Iraq but it is too early to register any health effects.
"When a uranium penetrator
hits a hard target, the particles of the explosion are very long-lived
in the environment," Dr Busby said yesterday. "They spread
over long distances. They can be inhaled into the lungs. The military
really seem to believe that this stuff is not as dangerous as it is."
Yet why would Israel use such a weapon when its targets - in the case
of Khiam, for example - were only two miles from the Israeli border?
The dust ignited by DU munitions can be blown across international borders,
just as the chlorine gas used in attacks by both sides in the First
World War often blew back on its perpetrators.
Chris Bellamy, the professor
of military science and doctrine at Cranfield University, who has reviewed
the Busby report, said: "At worst it's some sort of experimental
weapon with an enriched uranium component the purpose of which we don't
yet know. At best - if you can say that - it shows a remarkably cavalier
attitude to the use of nuclear waste products."
The soil sample from Khiam
- site of a notorious torture prison when Israel occupied southern Lebanon
between 1978 and 2000, and a frontline Hizbollah stronghold in the summer
war - was a piece of impacted red earth from an explosion; the isotope
ratio was 108, indicative of the presence of enriched uranium. "The
health effects on local civilian populations following the use of large
uranium penetrators and the large amounts of respirable uranium oxide
particles in the atmosphere," the Busby report says, "are
likely to be significant ... we recommend that the area is examined
for further traces of these weapons with a view to clean up."
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.
What the weapons manufacturers
make of the latest scientific findings of potential uranium weapons
use in southern Lebanon is not yet known. Nor is their effect on civilians.
© 2006 Independent News
and Media Limited
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