The Gaza lab

Israel’s Gaza strategy was old,but its weapons are new

Written by Ajey Lele | Published:January 22, 2009 11:23 pm

After raining fire on the Gaza strip,Israel terminated its offensive just a few days before Obama took over. Israel was ruthless during these operations; before starting the war Israeli forces would have known that cities are the most difficult battlefields and that Hamas would hold a relative advantage,with terrain knowledge and local support. They knew that in densely populated areas of Gaza,Hamas would try every trick to outdo them: Hamas had long prepared a web of underground tunnels and many other hurdles for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Any ground offensive would be welcomed by various asymmetric tactics like booby traps,suicide bombers,Hamas cadre fighting in civilian clothes,human shields,etc. Thus,the Israelis should have come prepared with new tactics.

Unfortunately,the only preparation the IDF had appears to be its plan to convert Gaza into a laboratory to test its new weapons systems. It would be very difficult to say at this juncture whether the tools and tactics used by Israeli forces amounted to war crimes,as many are arguing,but one thing can be said with certitude: that the methods were ruthless and the weapons were extremely lethal.

There are indications Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME) have been used,for example. This is a new generation explosive: a small but extremely powerful weapon that detonates with extreme power. This power gets dissipated over a small range of five to 10 metres (16-98 feet). The argument given in support of this explosive is that it is useful for pinpoint targeting and minimises any collateral damage. However,it is difficult to understand how,over a thickly populated Gaza strip,Israeli forces planned to identify individual Hamas cadres and used DIME only against them.

After working for 10 days at the Shifa Hospital in the war-torn Palestinian territory,doctors from a Norwegian triage medical team in Gaza felt that Israelis were using Gaza as a test laboratory for new urban-warfare weapons. These doctors,who had years of experience in treating war casualties,felt that the injuries treated by them in Gaza were of an entirely different nature. Those who survive may have had to have limbs amputated as their soft tissues and bones were shredded to pieces. These weapons are not constituted of any hard metal shields; they consist instead of carbon fibres filled with a mixture of explosives. The victims are also subsequently subject to the possibility that they can develop cancer from micro-shrapnel that may remain in their body tissue.

There were also reports,duly corroborated by the International Red Cross,that Israel fired white phosphorus shells during this battle. It is probable that such agents were used to create smoke screens for day attacks and for illuminating targets during night attacks. Israel has previously admitted to using white phosphorus during its 2006 war with Lebanon; and it is not in itself considered a chemical weapon. However,the Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used as a weapon of war in civilian areas — though there is no blanket ban under international law on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination. (Israel has also claimed that Hamas militants fired a phosphorus shell from the Gaza Strip into Israel though no injuries were reported.) It is interesting that,on the one hand,Israel is using weapons,like DIME,that they say are developed for pin-point targeting,while on the other hand they are using artillery shells made from white phosphorus,which are area weapons. (Naturally,the IDF’s intentions when it comes to such shells — were they only for illumination? — is hotly debated.)

Arab nations have also asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to investigate the presence of uranium traces in victims of Israeli bombardment over the Gaza strip. However,Israel has hotly denied reports about the use of depleted uranium in this conflict,claiming that this is propaganda,and poor propaganda at that. It has also been reported that Israelis have used at least some interesting,innovative low-tech tactics effectively. For example,they are believed to have telephoned residents of Gaza and talked to them in suitably accented Arabic,pretending to be sympathetic Egyptians,Saudis,Jordanians or Libyans. This helped them to gather tactical intelligence.

Israeli forces not only worked on their offensive mechanisms,but also managed to update the protection of their own solders. Every Israeli soldier was outfitted with a ceramic vest and helmet; every unit had dogs trained to sniff out explosive charges and people hidden in tunnels,as well as combat engineers trained to defuse hidden bombs.

The weaponry aspect of the recent Israeli offensive clearly indicates that Israel does not develop weapons it does not intend to use. It trains and prepares for bloody battles; world opinion is always secondary.

The writer researches non-traditional threats to national security at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses,Delhi

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