Israeli military prosecutors have decided not to take any legal action over Israel’s use of cluster bombs during last year’s war in Lebanon, the army said Monday, closing an investigation into a practice that has drawn heavy criticism from the U.N. and international human rights groups.
The investigation determined that Israel’s use of the weapons, which open in flight and scatter dozens of bomblets, was a “concrete military necessity” and did not violate international humanitarian law.
The United Nations and human rights groups have accused Israel of dropping about 4 million cluster bomblets during its 34-day war against the Hezbollah guerrilla group.
They say as many as 1 million bomblets failed to explode and now endanger civilians. More than 30 people have been killed by cluster bomb and land mine explosions in Lebanon since the 2006 summer war.
In a statement, the army said its chief investigator, Maj. Gen. Gershon HaCohen, determined “it was clear that the majority of the cluster munitions were fired at open and uninhabited areas, areas from which Hezbollah forces operated and in which no civilians were present.”
It said cluster bombs were fired at residential areas only “as an immediate defense response to rocket attacks by Hezbollah” and that Israeli troops did everything possible to minimize civilian casualties.
Whenever firing cluster bombs, Israeli forces were “respecting the laws of armed conflict … and preserving the ethical values” of the Israeli military, the statement said.
“The use of this weaponry was legal once it was determined that, in order to prevent rocket fire onto Israel, its use was a concrete military necessity,” the statement added.
The conclusions were passed on to the military’s advocate general, Brig. Gen. Avihai Mendelblit, who accepted the recommendation and decided not to press charges. The investigation was launched following the war.
The conflict erupted on July 12, 2006, when Hezbollah men attacked an Israeli border patrol, killing three soldiers and capturing two.
Amnesty International has harshly criticized Israel for bombing civilian areas and using cluster bombs during the fighting. It also has criticized Hezbollah for firing nearly 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities and towns.
The fighting left 159 Israelis dead, including 119 soldiers, while in Lebanon more than 1,000 people died, most of them civilians, according to counts by human rights groups, the Lebanese government and The Associated Press.
Israel failed to win the freedom of the soldiers, and Hezbollah has given no signs of life from the pair, who were severely wounded.