IDF Aims to Reduce Deaths in War

Israel tells the UN it will limit use of white phosphorous in wars, although it’s legal for military targets. US and Russia also use the material.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 09:07

White Phosphorous
White Phosphorous
Israel news photo: Wikimedia

Israel told the United Nations it will limit its use of white phosphorous in war, although the United States and Russia also use the material which is legal for military targets. The IDF also will attach an humanitarian affairs officer to combat units in war.

The Foreign Ministry revealed the new policy after it was communicated to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Monday as part of Israel’s response to international criticism of the Operation Cast Lead campaign against the Hamas terrorist infrastructure in Gaza last year.

"The IDF has ... implemented operational changes in its orders and combat doctrine designed to further minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian property in the future," the report said.

"In particular, the IDF has adopted important new procedures designed to enhance the protection of civilians in urban warfare, for instance by further emphasizing that the protection of civilians is an integral part of an IDF commander's mission.”

The IDF also is conducting nearly 50 investigations of possible criminal violations and improper conduct by ground troops, at least one of whom already has been charged.

A UN-sponsored report by retired South African Judge Richard Goldstone accused Israel of war crimes in the Cast Lead Operation, while barely only parenthetically commenting on Hamas atrocities.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have not responded to Goldstone’s criticisms of their actions.

In the war in Iraq in 2004, the United States used white phosphorus. In a description very similar to that issued by the IDF after Cast Lead, a Pentagon spokesman told the BBC said that white phosphorous was “used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants. One technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position because the combined effects of the fire and smoke—and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground—will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives.

Israel has pointed out that its use of white phosphorous was legal because it was employed against military targets, many of which Hamas placed behind civilian shields, in violation of rules of conduct in war.

However, the IDF told the United Nations that although it restricted the use of white phosphorous in Cast Lead, it “is in the process of establishing permanent restrictions on the use of munitions containing white phosphorus in urban areas.”

The United Nations has not passed any resolutions concerning the use of white phosphorous by U.S. Army soldiers and Taliban terrorists in clashes in Afghanistan. Burns have been found on civilians, and the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan has confirmed that white phosphorus was used to illuminate targets or as an incendiary weapon to destroy enemy bunkers.

Israel often used the material as a smoke screen to protect soldiers from terrorists, who frequently used civilians as human shields.

Yemeni fighters have accused Saudi Arabian warplanes of dropping phosphorous bombs, but the Saudi government claims they were flares, which the IDF also said it often used in Cast Lead.