Senate Democrats backed overwhelmingly legislation that was seen as reflecting Washington’s growing discontent with Israel’s use of American-made cluster bombs in heavily populated areas of Lebanon.
The Cluster Munitions Amendment, co-sponsored by Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, was defeated September 6 in a 70-30 vote. All 55 Republican senators opposed the measure, which would require recipients of American-made cluster bombs not to use them in or near civilian centers. Democrats, on the other hand, backed the measure by a 29-15 margin. Senator Jim Jeffords, a Republican-turned-independent who now caucuses with the Democrats, also voted in favor of the measure, a proposed amendment to the 2007 defense appropriations bill that would have prevented Department of Defense funds from being spent to transfer cluster bombs to foreign countries unless the Pentagon ensures that such bombs do not jeopardize civilians.
In a September 12 article, Ha’aretz quoted the unnamed head of an Israeli rocket unit as saying: “What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.” The rocket unit commander also stated that Multiple Launch Rocket System platforms were used despite the fact that they were known to be highly inaccurate.
Quoting his battalion commander, the rocket unit head stated that Israeli forces fired about 1,800 cluster bombs, containing more than 1.2 million bomblets. In addition, Ha’aretz reported, soldiers in Israeli artillery units have testified that the army used phosphorous shells during the war, widely forbidden by international law.
In response, the Israeli military spokesman’s office reportedly said that “international law does not include a sweeping prohibition of the use of cluster bombs. The convention on conventional weaponry does not declare a prohibition on [phosphorous weapons], rather, on principles regulating the use.” The military spokesman’s office asserted that the Israeli military “makes use only of methods and weaponry which are permissible under international law.”
Congressional sources, as well as several senior officials of national Jewish organizations, said that many officials in Washington — both in the administration and on Capitol Hill — are unhappy about the way in which Israel used cluster bombs in Lebanon. Some believe that Israel may have violated an American-Israeli agreement, the details of which never have been published, regarding the terms of the use of the munitions, sources said. Some government officials are concerned about the impact on America’s image abroad of the continued explosions of small American-made bombs in civilian neighborhoods in an Arab country that the Bush administration considers friendly to America.
According to data collected by the United Nations’ Mine Action Coordination Centre of South Lebanon and by human rights organizations, Israel used many thousands of cluster rounds in its shelling of southern Lebanon in July and August, leaving behind tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of unexploded bomblets. So far, such duds caused at least 12 deaths, as well as injuries to 51 people, during the two-and-a-half weeks that passed between August 14 and September 2, according to the data.
Before the vote in Congress last week, Feinstein and Leahy, members of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, identified Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon as an “example” or a “factor” in proposing the amendment. “The recent experience in Lebanon is only the latest example of the appalling human toll of injury and death,” Leahy said in a joint press release, issued September 5, with Feinstein.
Among the Democrats supporting the bill were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 and a likely contender in 2008; Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, another likely contender in 2008, and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who is currently facing a tough re-election fight in a state with a significant Jewish population.
The other Democrats who backed the Feinstein-Leahy measure were Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Max Baucus of Montana, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Barbara Boxer of California, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Tom Carper of Delaware, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Carl Levin of Michigan, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Pat Murray of Washington, Barack Obama of Illinois, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Ron Wyden of Oregon.