During Operation Cast Lead, IDF Use of Munitions Legal
25 March 2009 , 23:00
IDF Forces During Operation Cast Lead
IDF forces during Operation Cast Lead. Archive: IDF Spokesperson

At the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead, the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, ordered a number of investigations at the General Staff level, each lead by an officer with the rank of Colonel. The investigations are intended to evaluate different aspects of the operation, in addition to the operational investigations being conducted at the different command levels. During Operation Cast Lead, the IDF Spokesperson announced that an investigative committee, headed by a Colonel, would seriously look into allegations with regard to the use of ammunition containing elements of phosphorous.

This particular investigation deals with the use of ammunition containing elements of phosphorous, including, amongst others, the 155mm smoke shells cited in the Human Rights Watch report. This type of ammunition disperses in the atmosphere and creates an effective smoke screen in order to mask the advancement of forces from enemy fire. This is a tactic commonly used by many western armies.

The investigation will soon reach its final conclusion, and based on the findings to date, it is already possible to conclude that the IDF's use of smoke shells was in accordance with international law. These shells were used for specific operational needs only, and these uses were in accord with international humanitarian law. The claim that smoke shells were used indiscriminately, or to threaten the civilian population, is baseless.

It should be noted that contrary to the claims in the Human Rights Watch report, smoke shells are not an incendiary weapon.  The third protocol of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) – which defines particular limitations on incendiary weapons – clearly states that weapons intended for screening are not classified as incendiary weapons. Though the State of Israel is not a signatory of the third protocol, in any case, this protocol does not ban the use of smoke shells for the purpose of screening.

This announcement is an intermediate response. At the conclusion of the investigation by the IDF Chief of the General Staff, the main findings will be presented to the public.