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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Citing bad publicity, IDF decides to stop using legal white phosphorus smokescreens

Maariv reports that the IDF has decided to stop using white phosphorus shells during battle. Not because there is anything illegal or immoral about them, but they were bad PR - and they are no longer as necessary as they were in years past.

During Operation Cast Lead, many anti-Israel activists, NGOs like Amnesty and HRW, as well as the
Goldstone Report, criticized the IDF's use of white phosphorus shells that were used to obscure the vision of the enemy. In rare cases a different version may have been used to illuminate enemy positions at night.

The critics gave a range of charges, ranging from saying that the shells were dangerous to civilians to expounding junk science to claim they caused birth defects to ridiculous claims that they were illegal chemical weapons. I have one post that discusses the legal military use of white phosphorus extensively, written by two military experts, that debunk these claims.

Nevertheless, the IDF decided that the legal military benefits of using the shells - which are used by Western nations all the time - was outweighed by the bad PR of the occasional civilian who touched the shells and received burns.

It is researching alternatives (which generally are not as effective as a smokescreen.) A spokesman also said that use of pyrotechnic phosphorus at night is no longer necessary now that night-vision goggles are widely used instead.

While the IDF used WP in a legal way, it is interesting to note that Hamas would scavenge the WP they could find in unexploded shells and put them in rockets that were shot at Israeli civilians. As far as I can tell, not a single "human rights" group ever said a word about that use of WP, which is patently illegal.

(h/t Gidon Shaviv)