How US helped Israel strike at innocents

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The Independent Online
An investigation by The Independent has revealed that most of the American bombs and air-to-ground missiles fired by Israel in Lebanon last year were sold to the United States armed forces - not to Israel.

Israel's "Operation Grapes of Wrath" - the bombardment of southern Lebanon that killed almost 200 civilians and 14 guerrillas from the pro-Iranian Hizbollah - used at least 1,700 bombs and missiles that were "transferred" from US military stocks with no prohibition on their use against civilians.

In private, senior American officers have expressed grave concern about Israeli misuse of US weapons, including Marine Corps air-to-ground missiles that have killed dozens of Lebanese civilians over the past two years. Enquiries by The Independent have revealed that the Hellfire missile fired by an Israeli helicopter pilot at an ambulance in southern Lebanon on 13 April, 1996 - which killed four children and two women - was originally sold to the US Marine Corps by Martin Marietta of Florida, and only later transferred to Israel.

But so routine has the system of weapons transfers from US inventories become, that massive shipments of ordnance to Israel are now undertaken with no publicity or debate. Just over a week ago, for example, the United States received an Israeli request for 98,000 shells for 155 mm guns - more than three times the 26,000 rounds fired into Lebanon during the entire three-week "Grapes of Wrath" operation - at a cost of $30m.

No explanation was given by Israel as to why such an enormous quantity of ammunition should be needed six years after the US government launched its Middle East "peace process" in Madrid. Senatorial and congressional committees will routinely approve the transfer next month, the costs defrayed from Washington's $1.8bn (pounds 1.1bn) military assistance programme to Israel.

US officers have complained to The Independent that Israel now has carte blanche to plunder the US inventory, knowing that its sympathisers on Capitol Hill will raise no questions about the use that will be made of America's military technology against Arab countries.

The officers, who said that almost all the bombs and missiles fired during "Grapes of Wrath" were transfers from US forces, spoke of thousands of tanks and artillery pieces stripped from US Nato armouries in Europe over the past 20 years for shipment to Israel despite angry protests from the Defense Department.

"The State Department gives the orders and the acceptance of every Israeli request and desire - whatever it wants - is acceded to," a senior retired US officer intimately involved in the sale and transfer of weapons to Israel, said. "Questions aren't asked any more. It sails right by."

The terms of the US Arms Export Control Act state that "defense articles ... shall be sold or leased by the United States Government ... to friendly countries solely for internal security [or] for legitimate self-defense ... " but the bulk of prohibitions apply only to the further transfer of US weapons technology. Israel says that its battles in Lebanon constitute self-defence operations - "Grapes of Wrath" was commenced after Hizbollah guerrillas fired rockets into Israel in revenge for the booby-trap killing of a Lebanese teenager - but according to defence sources, the US government has not made a single complaint about the use of Israeli weaponry in Lebanon last year.

American-made 155 mm guns fired the shells that slaughtered 109 Lebanese refugees - 55 of them children - at the UN camp at Qana on 18 April last year, while a US Marine Corps missile was believed to be responsible for the death of nine civilians from one family when the rocket was fired by the Israelis at a block of flats in Nabatiyeh on the same day. The youngest victim was two days old.

Despite four weeks of enquiries to the State Department and the Department of Defense seeking clarification about the terms of sale of the American missiles - including 30 telephone calls giving the code numbers of the Hellfire missile which killed the ambulance victims on 13 April, - neither department had felt able to respond to The Independent's questions last night.

The Defense Department claimed that the State Department must answer; the State Department insisted that the Department of Defense must reply. "Some questions come to us with a kind of jinx attached," a DoD spokesman told The Independent last week. "Yours seems to have a jinx."

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