Is Israel Using Prohibited Weapons?

By Stuart Littlewood

Not content with their massive blood-letting and maiming mission last weekend, the Israelis couldn’t resist nipping back into Gaza last night for more of the same.

Not that the British government seems to give a damn about the murder and mayhem being visited on the Gazans. Our foreign secretary David Miliband said: "I condemn the rocket attacks against Israel. These are terrorist acts. They should be seen for what they are – an attempt to break the political process by breaking the will of those committed to peace.”

No condemnation of Israel’s terrorist acts, then. No acknowledgement that any political process involving unrepresentative placemen like Abbas and Fayyad is doomed. No recognition that the prospect of peace has already been scuppered by the acceleration of Israel’s land-grab and illegal settlement programme.

And the dear boy still seems utterly oblivious to the inevitable… that someone, sooner or later, will have to talk with Hamas. Good manners require it, even if good sense is lacking.

Anyway, who is this Miliband person, somebody asked me. And does he write his own speeches or are the words supplied by some Zionist scribbler on loan from the White House?

Well, I have no idea. Miliband just popped out of Labour’s ‘bright young things’ cupboard one day and suddenly became foreign secretary with no qualifications for the job whatsoever, a folly compounded by harnessing him with former chairman of Labour Friends of Israel and the minister for the Middle East, Dr. Kim Howells.

Miliband told the Daily Mail “categorically" that he didn’t believe in God. Maybe that explains why he voted for the war in Iraq.

So can we take it that he also doesn’t give a damn about thermobaric weapons and whether his US and Israeli chums are using them against civilians? The question arises because I have just received from Gaza’s Ministry of Health a report into the effects of prohibited weapons Israel is suspected of using.

In July 2006 doctors in Lebanon and Gaza were saying: “We never saw before wounds and corpses like those that arrive in the ward… what are these new weapons that cause such wounding and horrible deaths?” The large majority of victims in both locations were women, children and elders caught in Israeli attacks in the street, in the market place and at home.

Thermobaric bombs and grenades leave no visible wound

What they saw led doctors to believe that a new generation of weapons was being used in both territories. For example, in Sidon, Lebanon eight victims (three children, four men and one woman) were described thus: "One might think they were burnt, but they are not, only their color is dark, they’re inflated, and they have a terrible smell. The hair is not burnt nor the bodies wounded”. Due to the strong smell of the corpses, the medical director said he couldn’t breath properly for at least 12 hours after they were handled.

The report stated: “Common features of all the victim’s bodies were lack of main wounds… All victims had serious internal edema and hemorrhage with loss of blood from all body orifices. All the bodies were covered of dark powder so to look black, but were not burnt. Clothes and hair were not damaged or burnt.”

Samples from the skin of six corpses were analyzed for histology in two independent laboratories. The results revealed no altered elements in the skin and derma and no sign of burns. All samples showed particles of dark color covering the skin, histologically staining for iron.

Electron microscope scans showed the presence of phosphorous, iron and magnesium at below the normal level of detection. Analysis of the dark refractive material layered over the skin of one victim showed it contained mainly carbon and oxygen, and lesser amounts of iron, silicon and calcium. Some of these elements are used in particle form as fuel additives to boost the blast of thermobaric bombs or grenades.

Thermobaric, or fuel-air energy (FAE), explosives work in two stages. The shell, or container, is burst open to spread the combusting agent as a fine aerosol, then this is ignited, creating an overpressure blast wave traveling at 3000 metres per second, and burning all available oxygen in the process.

The GlobalSecurity website describes the effect of a thermobaric bomb: “Those near the ignition point are obliterated. Those at the fringe are likely to suffer many internal, and thus invisible injuries, including burst eardrums and crushed inner ear organs, severe concussions, ruptured lungs and internal organs, and possibly blindness. The destruction, death, and injury are caused by the blast wave.”

Enhanced performance is achieved by adding excess metals to the explosive composition, aluminum and magnesium being the metals of choice.

A report on the Defense Technology website says that instead of shrapnel/fragment injuries a thermobaric device produces blast effects. “Each tissue type, when interacting with the blast wave, is compressed, stretched, sheared or disintegrated by overload according to its material properties. Internal organs that contain air (sinuses, ears, lungs and intestines) are particularly vulnerable to blast.”

“Six rounds in three seconds… I thought this thing was sick.”

The US uses dinky 40mm thermobaric grenades developed for the ‘war against terror’ in Afghanistan. Is it too big a stretch of the imagination to suppose they are being supplied for use in places like Gaza? These little beauties produce “a thermobaric overpressure blast rather than fragmentation. As a result of the thermobaric reaction, all enemy personnel within the effective radius will suffer lethal effects as opposed to the conventional fragmentation round.”

The grenades look like cannon shells and are fired from a lumpy, aggressive looking shoulder weapon with a multi-chambered revolving cylinder. “You can put six rounds on target in under three seconds,” one Marine Corps corporal said. “I thought this thing was sick.” Just the job, then, for eliminating Qassam rocketeers and their families and friends and anyone else who happens to get in the way….

In the victim cases examined, the weapon used left no traces visible to the naked eye or detectable by instruments commonly used in hospitals and emergency wards. This makes it all the more difficult to provide proper care for the wounded. “These weapons do not leave fragments on/in the victims’ bodies and this fact already puts them outside established conventions of war, regardless of whether they are used against military or civilians,” say the doctors.

According to Geneva Conventions (Protocol on Non-Detectable Fragments), "it is prohibited to use any weapon the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays."

Of course none of this is news to the arms industry. But it’s time the public – who pay for the development of such weapons and could one day find themselves on the wrong end – knew more about it.

Thankfully, here in Britain we seem to be a bit queasier about prohibited weaponry than our thermobarbaric allies. Rumour has it that our enlightened government has opted for ‘enhanced blast explosives technology’, which is designed to fully comply with international humanitarian law. How thoughtful. Let’s hope women, children and old folk on the receiving end appreciate the difference.

I suppose this is as near as Britain gets these days to taking a moral lead.

-Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit He contributed this article to

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