The illegal use of white phosophorus weapons by the IDF in Operation Cast Lead has now been confirmed in one of the soliders' testimonies, published yesterday. Of course, people have know about it for the last six months. But the lesson to be learned from the story is how the IDF uses a forbidden weapon and lies about it when discovered.
Let's recall the timeline here:
January 5. The Times of London reports use of white phosphorus by IDF.
January 6. IDF Spokesperson contacted by HRW first claims that its use is to mark targets, and then denies all use.
January 8. The Times publishes photographs of white phosphorus munitions.
January 13. IDF Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi tells a Knesset committee: "The IDF…does not use white phosphorus."
January 13. The IRC says that white phosphorus can be used to create a smokescreen or illuminate a target.
January 17. Mark Regev, Israeli government spokesperson, says that Israel has been cleared by the IRC. IRC denies this.
January 19. Ashkenazi announces IDF commision of inquiry to determine whether white phosophorus has been used.
April 22. "The probe, conducted by artillery officer Col. Shai Alkalai, revealed that white phosphorus weapons were used strictly in open fields and not in urban centers. The weapon was also not used against terrorists, but for marking and ranging when the forces targeted Kassam rocket cells operating in open areas. The IDF said it knew of only one case when white phosphorus was used for its burning capacity. That incident also took place in an open field, to burn away shrubbery and uncover tunnel openings" Jerusalem Post article, April 22.
And now, the soldier's testimony:
July 15: "... another case we had in our designated area was some house that according to intelligence information was said to be booby-trapped, that it contained a tunnel and the like. in other words, it was said to be highly dangerous. Troops did not enter it because it could be mined and if there were tunnels then there was the risk of soldiers being kidnapped etc. So several shells were fired at it and no explosions were heard on the scale that would have indicated that it did contain whatever it was suspected to contain. Then some order arrived to ignite it. The way to do that was to actually fire phosphorus shells from above. What the phosphorus does is to let out an umbrella of fire over the target and naturally that ignites the whole house. Finally we also saw all kinds of secondary blasts going, and two Qassam rockets flew out of there towards Israel, probably aimed and charged. There were lots of other things there and more secondary blasts, but that was the only time in our own area when phosphorus was used. But in this case there was definitely use of phosphorus ammunition." Soldier Testimony 42.
Now, some readers will dismiss this last testimony, along with the testimonies of the human rights organizations and the international media. My question to them is:
What would it take for you to believe that white phosphorus was used in inhabited areas, in cases where house demolition was considered to be a military necessity, and no other way had worked?