+   *    +     +     
About Us 
The Issues 
Our Research Products 
Order Publications 
Press Room 
Resources for Monitor Researchers 
Landmine Monitor
Table of Contents
Country Reports
Download PDF of country response to Human Rights Watch letter.


The State of Israel has not signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It did not participate at all in the diplomatic process to develop and negotiate the convention in 2007 and 2008, nor the signing conference in Oslo in December 2008.

Israel has been a major user, producer, exporter, importer, and stockpiler of cluster munitions. International outrage over Israel’s extensive use of cluster munitions in south Lebanon during its July and August 2006 war with Hezbollah was a catalyst for the launching of the Oslo Process.

Israel is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), but has not ratified Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). Israel has participated actively in the deliberations on cluster munitions in the CCW in recent years.

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Israel has long been resistant to any new international restrictions—much less prohibitions—on cluster munitions. From 2000, when the CCW first began discussing cluster munitions, until mid-2008, Israel opposed any new rules or regulations for states on the use of cluster munitions, insisting that existing international law was sufficient.

In justifying its use of cluster munitions in Lebanon in July and August 2006, Israel stressed that it did so in conformity with international humanitarian law (IHL). It said, “Both international law and accepted practice do not prohibit the use of…‘cluster bombs.’ Consequently, the main issue…should be the method of their use, rather than their legality.”[1]

In November 2006, during the Third Review Conference of the CCW, Israel did not support a proposal for a mandate to negotiate a legally-binding instrument “that addresses the humanitarian concerns posed by cluster munitions.”[2]

Israel’s position was that any work in the CCW on cluster munitions should focus on prohibiting the transfer to and use by non-state armed groups (NSAG). “The use of arms including submunitions by terrorists against Israeli civilians has been well documented and raises serious questions regarding how such weapons reached those hands and how the international community can enhance its control over the transfer of those weapons to rogue groups…. This in our view should be the focus of future actions under the CCW framework, rather than adding provisions which could be used to provide further immunity for terrorists who prefer to operate from populated areas,” Israel stated. It added that CCW Protocol V “provides a good basis for further discussions on preventative measures as well as for finding the measures to ensure the safety and reliability of ammunition in order to reduce the risks of ERW.”[3]

After CCW States Parties agreed at the end of 2007 to “negotiate a proposal” on cluster munitions, Israel still strongly insisted that the use of cluster munitions was legitimate under IHL and that it was opposed to the creation of new rules of IHL specifically applicable to cluster munitions, as it claimed that existing IHL was sufficient.[4] Israel continued to call for work on the issue of transfers of weapons to “terrorists.”[5]

In July 2008, following the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions by 107 nations in Dublin in May, Israel’s position appeared to shift somewhat, in that it accepted the notion that the CCW should be negotiating a future legally-binding instrument on cluster munitions. However, it stated that any instrument on cluster munitions in the CCW should not be a categorical ban.[6] It opposed a definition of cluster munition based on the definition in the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[7] Moreover, Israel called for a lengthy transition period before any obligations placed on cluster munitions in a future instrument took effect.[8]

On other issues under discussion, Israel objected to the inclusion of a timeframe for stockpile destruction, and did not support the inclusion of a definition of cluster munition victim in a future instrument, on the basis that it could lead to discrimination between victims of cluster munitions and persons with other types of disabilities.[9]

While it had numerous objections to proposed provisions in the draft text under consideration in the CCW throughout 2008, Israel stated it was disappointed that States Parties were unable to reach agreement at the scheduled conclusion of the CCW negotiations in November—a failure which it blamed on a group of states that had chosen to align themselves with work carried out “in another forum.”[10]

In a 23 February 2009 letter to Human Rights Watch, Israel wrote that it “welcomes and supports the ongoing negotiations held within the framework of the…CCW aimed at urgently addressing the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions. In Israel’s view, the CCW is the appropriate forum to negotiate such matters, one that has traditionally enjoyed the membership and expertise of relevant states…. In light of the above, Israel is not in a position to support the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). Israel shares the views of those states wishing to alleviate the humanitarian concerns that may be associated with the use of cluster munitions, and believes that this could be best achieved within the framework of the CCW.”[11]


Israel used cluster munitions in 1973 in Syria against NSAG training camps near Damascus, in 1978 in south Lebanon, in 1982 in Lebanon against Syrian forces and NSAGs, and in 2006 in south Lebanon against Hezbollah.[12]

Israel fired cluster munitions containing some four million submunitions into south Lebanon in 2006, twice the number used by Coalition forces in Iraq in 2003 and 15 times the number used by the United States in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. According to the UN, 90% of the cluster munitions were fired in the last 72 hours of the conflict.[13] A spokesperson for the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre Southern Lebanon said Israel’s use of cluster munitions “was unprecedented and one of the worst, if not the worst, use of submunitions in history.”[14]

Human Rights Watch’s on-the-ground investigations found Israel’s use to be both indiscriminate and disproportionate, in violation of IHL.[15] Two UN investigations also concluded that Israel violated IHL, and a US inquiry determined Israel’s use of cluster munitions may have violated the terms of the bilateral agreement under which the weapons were provided. Israel’s own investigations judged the cluster munition attacks to be “in accordance with international law,” but also found the use violated internal regulations, due to deviations from orders.[16] In January 2008, the Winograd Commission of inquiry appointed by the Israeli government reported that there was a lack of clarity regarding the acceptable or appropriate use of these weapons.[17]

Israel has also been faulted by the UN, governments, humanitarian aid organizations, and clearance organizations for its failure to provide adequate strike data in a timely fashion to facilitate warnings to the civilian population and clearance of unexploded submunitions, despite repeated bilateral and international appeals. [18]

During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Hezbollah fired over 100 Chinese made Type-81 122mm cluster munitions rockets into northern Israel.[19] Israel has said that it has cleared all unexploded ordnance from these cluster attacks.

Production, Stockpiling, and Transfer

Israel is a major producer and exporter of cluster munitions, primarily artillery projectiles and rockets containing the M85 dual purpose improve conventional munition (DPICM) submunition equipped with a back-up pyrotechnic self-destruct fuze. Israel Military Industries (IMI) produces, license-produces, and exports cluster munitions including artillery projectiles (105mm, 122mm, 130mm, 152mm, 155mm, 175mm, 203mm), mortar bombs (120mm), and rockets (EXTRA, GRADLAR, LAR-160).[20]

IMI has reportedly produced over 60 million M85 DPICM submunitions.[21] IMI concluded licensing agreements in 2004 with companies in India (Indian Ordnance Factories) and the US (Alliant Techsystems) to produce DPICMs. Companies in Argentina (CITEFA), Germany (Rheinmetall), Romania (Romtechnica), Switzerland (RAUG), and Turkey (MKEK and Rocketsan) have also assembled or produced these submunitions under license.[22]

Israel transferred four GRADLAR 122mm/160mm rocket launcher units to Georgia in 2007. Georgia has acknowledged using the launchers with 160mm Mk.-4 rockets, each containing 104 M85 DPICM submunitions, during its August 2008 conflict with Russia.[23] Cluster munitions of Israeli origin have been reported in the Colombia’s stockpile.[24]

Israel has also produced several types of air-dropped cluster munitions. The Rafael Corporation is credited with producing the ATAP-300, ATAP-500, ATAP-1000 RAM, TAL-1, and TAL-2 cluster bombs, as well as the BARAD Helicopter Submunition Dispenser.[25]

Israel has imported cluster munitions from the US, including M26 rockets (each with 644 submunitions) for its Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) launchers and 155mm M483A1 projectiles (each with 88 submunitions), both used in south Lebanon in 2006. The US has also supplied Israel with Rockeye cluster bombs (with 202 bomblets each) and CBU-58B cluster bombs (with 650 bomblets each).[26]

The size and composition of Israel’s current stockpile of cluster munitions is not known.

[1] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Behind the Headlines: Legal and Operational Aspects of the Use of Cluster Bombs,” 5 September 2006, www.mfa.gov.il.

[2] Proposal for a Mandate to Negotiate a Legally-Binding Instrument that Addresses the Humanitarian Concerns Posed by Cluster Munitions, Third Review Conference of the States Parties to the CCW, Geneva, CCW/CONF.III/WP.1, 25 October 2006.

[3] Statement by Meir Itzchaki, Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN in Geneva, Third Review Conference of the States Parties to the CCW, Geneva, 7 November 2006.

[4] Statement of Israel, First 2008 Session of the CCW Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Cluster Munitions, 14 January 2008. Notes by WILPF.

[5] At an April 2008 CCW session, Israel submitted a proposal which would require states “not to transfer and not to authorize the transfer of [cluster munitions] to recipients other than a State or State agency authorized to receive such transfers and only if an end-user certificate is provided.” The proposal would also apply to unauthorized transfers of cluster munitions within territory under a State’s jurisdiction or control. Proposal on transfers of cluster munitions, submitted by Israel, Second 2008 Session of the CCW GGE on Cluster Munitions, Geneva, 9 April 2008, CCW/GGE/2008-II/WP.7.

[6] Statement of Israel, Third 2008 Session of the CCW GGE on Cluster Munitions, 23 July 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[7] Statement of Israel, Fourth 2008 Session of the CCW GGE on Cluster Munitions, 5 September 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[8] Ibid, 4 September 2008; and Statement of Israel, Fifth 2008 Session of the CCW GGE on Cluster Munitions, 3 November 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[9] Statement of Israel, Third 2008 Session of the CCW GGE on Cluster Munitions, 14 July 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[10] Statement of Israel, 2008 Meeting of the States Parties to the CCW, 13 November 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[11] Letter from Rodica Radian-Gordon, Director, Arms Control Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 23 February 2009.

[12] Human Rights Watch, “Cluster Munition Information Chart,” April 2009, www.hrw.org. During the 1978 and 1982 Lebanon conflicts, the US placed restrictions on the use of its cluster munitions by Israel. In response to Israel’s use of cluster munitions in 1982 and the civilian casualties that they caused, the US issued a moratorium on the transfer of cluster munitions to Israel. The moratorium was lifted in 1988. Human Rights Watch, “Flooding South Lebanon: Israel’s Use of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon in July and August 2006,” Volume 20, No.2(E), February 2008, p. 26, www.hrw.org.

[13] For details on Israel’s use of cluster munitions in Lebanon and its impact, see Human Rights Watch, “Flooding South Lebanon: Israel’s Use of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon in July and August 2006,” Volume 20, No.2(E), February 2008, www.hrw.org; and Landmine Action, “Foreseeable harm: the use and impact of cluster munitions in Lebanon: 2006,” October 2006.

[14] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Lebanon: Deminers find new cluster bomb sites without Israeli data,” IRIN, 22 January 2008, quoting Dalya Farran, spokeswoman for the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre Southern Lebanon, www.reliefweb.int.

[15] Human Rights Watch, “Flooding South Lebanon: Israel’s Use of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon in July and August 2006,” Volume 20, No.2(E), February 2008, p. 1.

[16] Ibid, p. 95.

[17] Landmine Action, “Cluster Munitions: A survey of legal responses,” 2008, pp. 18–26. The Commission highlighted specific areas of dispute regarding the acceptability of cluster munition use, and it recommended that such disputes be clarified unequivocally for the future. Such situations included the use of these weapons around civilian areas where unexploded submunitions could cause civilian casualties, including situations where the civilian population has fled but such casualties might occur on their return. The Commission recommended that a re-examination of policy be conducted, that it also include parties outside the IDF, and that the main findings from the re-examination should be made public.

[18] See “UN calls on Israel to hand over coordinates of cluster bomb strikes in Lebanon,” Haaretz, 19 September 2006; and “UN calls Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon ‘outrageous,’” Haaretz, 19 September 2006. The UN Secretary-General, in his reports on the situation in Lebanon, repeatedly called on Israel to respond to the UN’s many requests to provide the strike data. “This data is of critical importance and would greatly enhance the rate of clearance operations in southern Lebanon and reduce the risk to both civilians and mine clearance experts,” the Secretary-General stated, calling the information “crucial and potentially life-saving.” Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), S/2007/641, 30 October 2007, p 10.

[19] Human Rights Watch, “Civilians Under Assault: Hezbollah’s Rocket Attacks on Israel in the 2006 War,” Vol. 19, No. 3(E), August 2007, pp. 44–48, www.hrw.org.

[20] Information on surface-launched cluster munitions produced and possessed by Israel is taken primarily from the IMI corporate website, www.imi-israel.com. It has been supplemented with information from Leland S. Ness and Anthony G. Williams, Jane’s Ammunition Handbook 2007–2008 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2007); and US Defense Intelligence Agency, “Improved Conventional Munitions and Selected Controlled-Fragmentation Munitions (Current and Projected) DST-1160S-020-90.”

[21] Mike Hiebel, Alliant TechSystems, and Ilan Glickman, Israel Military Industries, “Self-Destruct Fuze for M864 Projectiles and MLRS Rockets,” Presentation to the 48th Annual Fuze Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina, 27–28 April 2004, Slide 9, www.dtic.mil.

[22] Human Rights Watch, “Flooding South Lebanon: Israel’s Use of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon in July and August 2006,” Volume 20, No.2(E), February 2008, p. 27.

[23] The transfer of the GRADLAR launchers was reported in Submission by Georgia, UN Register of Conventional Arms, Calendar Year 2007, 7 July 2008. The Georgian Ministry of Defense on 1 September 2008 admitted to using Mk.-4 rockets against Russian forces on its website. “Georgian Ministry of Defence’s Response to the Human Rights Watch Inquire about the Usage of M85 Bomblets,” 1 September 2008, www.mod.gov.ge, accessed 29 October 2008.

[24] The CMC has received information from Colombian military sources that Colombia stockpiles M971 120mm mortar projectiles produced by Israel, which contain 24 DPICM submunitions. Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean on Cluster Munitions, Quito, 7 November 2008. Notes by CMC.

[25] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), pp. 370–380.

[26] Human Rights Watch, “Flooding South Lebanon: Israel’s Use of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon in July and August 2006,” Volume 20, No.2(E), February 2008, p. 27–28.