Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 18 July 2016

Summary: Non-signatory Israel has acknowledged the humanitarian concerns with cluster munitions, but sees military utility in the weapons. It has never participated in a meeting of the convention and abstained from voting on a UN resolution on the convention in December 2015.

Israel is a producer, importer, and exporter of cluster munitions and it likely has a significant stockpile, but has never disclosed information on the quantities or types. It also hosts a stockpile of US cluster munitions that are available for transfer to Israel in an emergency. Israel’s last use of cluster munitions in south Lebanon in 2006 was part of the catalyst for the creation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.


The State of Israel has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Israel has acknowledged humanitarian concerns with cluster munitions, but sees military utility in the weapons. Israel last elaborated its views on accession to the convention in November 2011, when it commented that “instruments” on cluster munitions “may be more expansive, but nevertheless do not enjoy the support of many relevant states,” a clear reference to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[1]

In a 2009 letter to the Monitor, Israel said it “shares the views of those states wishing to alleviate the humanitarian concerns that may be associated with the use of cluster munitions,” which it said could be best achieved within the framework of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), to which it is a party.[2] Israel is not known to have reevaluated that position since the 2011 failure of the CCW to agree on a draft protocol on cluster munitions, leaving the Convention on Cluster Munitions as the sole international instrument dedicated to ending the suffering caused by cluster munitions.[3]

On 7 December 2015, Israel abstained from the vote on the first UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which urges states outside the convention to “join as soon as possible.”[4] Israel did not explain the reasons for its abstention on the non-binding resolution, which 140 states voted for, including many non-signatories.

Israel did not participate in the diplomatic Oslo Process that created the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[5] 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. It justified its use of cluster munitions in Lebanon in 2006, by arguing the use was in conformity with international humanitarian law. 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.”[6]

Israel has never attended a meeting of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, even as an observer as other states not party have done. Israel was invited to, but did not attend the First Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in September 2015.

Israel has voted in favor of UNGA resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, most recently in December 2015.[7]

Israel is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty.


Israel used cluster munitions in July and August 2006 in south Lebanon against Hezbollah, in 1982 in Lebanon against Syrian forces and non-state armed groups (NSAG), and in 1978 in south Lebanon. In 1973, Israel used cluster munitions in Syria against NSAG training camps near Damascus.[8] Israeli air forces also used cluster bombs against Egyptian air defense positions in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.[9]

In January 2008, the Winograd Commission of inquiry appointed by the Israeli government to investigate the 2006 conflict reported a lack of clarity regarding the acceptable or appropriate use of cluster munitions.[10] In October 2012, a senior Israeli military officer briefing foreign journalists reportedly said that in any future war with Hezbollah, Israel’s cluster munition use would be “much reduced, significantly reduced,” compared to its previous use of the weapons during the 2006 conflict. According to the official, “Due to a whole range of considerations—legitimacy, our non-indifference to the treaty, effectiveness and other factors—cluster use is expected to be reduced in combat in the rural areas.”[11]

Israel has not used cluster munitions since 2006.

Production and transfer

Israel has been a major producer and exporter of cluster munitions, primarily artillery projectiles and rockets containing the M85 dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunition equipped with a back-up pyrotechnic self-destruct fuze.[12]

Israel Military Industries (IMI) has produced, license-produced, and exported cluster munitions including artillery projectiles (105mm, 122mm, 130mm, 152mm, 155mm, 175mm, and 203mm), mortar bombs (120mm), and rockets (EXTRA, GRADLAR, and LAR-160).[13]

In the past, Israel concluded licensing agreements for the M85 with Germany, India, Romania, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US).[14] Based on lot numbers and production markings, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and the UK have also declared stockpiling 155mm artillery projectiles containing M85 submunitions in their transparency reports for the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Azerbaijan received a total of 50 Extra surface-to-surface missiles from Israel for its Lynx-type launchers in 2008–2009; it had ordered them in 2005.[15] Georgia received four GRADLAR 122mm/160mm rocket launcher units from Israel in 2007.[16] State Party Chile declared possessing 249 LAR-160 cluster munition rockets.[17] Israel reportedly also exported the LAR-160 rocket system to Venezuela.[18]

In 2015, the government put state-owned IMI up for sale as part of a privatization measure.[19] As of June 2016, negotiations were reportedly continuing with Elbit Systems over the purchase of IMI, now reportedly known as “IMI Systems Ltd.”[20] Meanwhile, Israel’s Minister of Defense appointed a new chair of IMI.[21]

The IMI website no longer lists the M85 DPICM submunition among its products. The site, however, lists the M99 “dual-purpose advanced submunition” that IMI says provides “improved operational safety and reliability” and “guarantees extremely low dude rate” due to three independent fuze mechanisms.[22]

Israel has 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.[23] In August 2011, Venezuela announced its destruction of Israeli-made AS TAL-1 cluster bombs belonging to its air force.[24] An air-dropped cluster bomb of Israeli origin called ARC-32 was reportedly stockpiled by Colombia.[25]

Israel has imported cluster munitions from the US, including M26 rockets (each with 644 submunitions) for its M270 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) launchers and 155mm M483A1 projectiles (each with 88 submunitions). It used both in south Lebanon in 2006. The US has also supplied Israel with Rockeye cluster bombs (with 247 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, but it is likely to be significant and comprised of the cluster munitions listed above.[27]

Israel also hosts a stockpile of US ammunition, which could be transferred to Israel in an emergency.[28] That cluster munitions were part of this stockpile was disclosed in a 2008 US Department of State cable released by Wikileaks in 2011 that contained the claim that in 2008, US-manufactured cluster munitions with more than a 1% tested failure rate “constitute greater than 60 percent of the overall” holdings of cluster munitions in the “pre-positioned War Reserve Stockpiles in Israel (WRSA/I).”[29] The Israeli officials reportedly warned the US that “unless the prohibition is lifted, Israel will have to revise its defensive doctrine, find a solution to the one-percent dud rate requirement for cluster munitions, and look to another type of weapon system on which to center its self defense strategy.”[30]

[1] Statement of Israel, Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Fourth Review Conference, Geneva, 14 November 2011.

[2] Letter from Rodica Radian-Gordon, Director, Arms Control Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 23 February 2009. In June 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the views it expressed in a 2009 letter to the Monitor remain unchanged. Letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 19 June 2011.

[3] Statement of Israel, CCW Fourth Review Conference, Geneva, 25 November 2011. Notes by Action on Armed Violence.

[4]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 70/54, 7 December 2015.

[5] For details on Israel’s cluster munition policy and practice through early 2009, see HRW and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), pp. 212–215.

[6] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Behind the Headlines: Legal and operational aspects of the use of cluster bombs,” 5 September 2006.

[7]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution A/RES/70/234, 23 December 2015. Israel voted in favor of similar resolutions on 15 May and 18 December 2013, and on 18 December 2014.

[8] During the 1978 and 1982 Lebanon conflicts, the United States (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 they caused, the US issued a moratorium on the transfer of cluster munitions to Israel. The moratorium was lifted in 1988. HRW, “Flooding South Lebanon: Israel’s Use of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon in July and August 2006,” Vol. 20, No. 2(E), February 2008, p. 26.

[9] Abraham Rabinovich. The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter that Transformed the Middle East (New York: Random House), 2004, p. 33.

[10] Landmine Action, “Cluster Munitions: A survey of legal responses,” 2008, pp. 18–26. According to a US Department of State cable dated 7 May 2008 and made public in September 2011, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) lawyers informed the US that “Winograd Report recommendations concerning cluster munitions were being implemented.” According to the cable, “Since the summer of 2006, the IDF has improved command and control over cluster munitions, improved the documentation system utilized by firing level units, revised its training program to ensure widespread familiarization of the requirements for using cluster munitions, and placed a greater emphasis on accountability.” See, “Cluster munitions: Israeli’s operational defensive capabilities crisis,” US Department of State cable 08TELAVIV1012 dated 7 May 2008, released by Wikileaks on 1 September 2011.

[11] The official spoke on the condition of anonymity. When asked to clarify the definition of “rural areas,” he said that he meant “most of southern Lebanon.” Dan Williams, “Israel to limit cluster bombs in possible war with Hezbollah,” Reuters (Tel Aviv), 29 October 2012.

[12] In 2004, an IMI representative claimed that the company had produced more than 60 million M85 DPICM submunitions. Mike Hiebel, Alliant TechSystems, and Ilan Glickman, IMI, “Self Destruct Fuze for M864 Projectiles / MLRS Rockets,” Presentation to the 48th Annual Fuze Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina, 27–28 April 2004, Slide 9.

[13] Information on surface-launched cluster munitions produced and possessed by Israel is taken primarily from IMI’s corporate website. It has been supplemented with information from Leland S. Ness and Anthony G. Williams, eds., 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.”

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

[15] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), “Arms Transfers Database,” Recipient report for Azerbaijan for the period 1950–2011, generated on 15 May 2012. According to SIPRI, the Azerbaijani designation for the Lynx multiple rocket launchers are Dolu-1, Leysan, and Shimsek.

[16] Georgia has acknowledged using the launchers with 160mm Mk IV rockets, each containing 104 M85 DPICM submunitions, during its 2008 conflict with Russia. The transfer of the GRADLAR launchers was reported in UN Register of Conventional Arms, Submission of Georgia, UN Register of Conventional Arms Report for Calendar Year 2007, 7 July 2008. The Georgian Ministry of Defense on 1 September 2008 admitted to using Mk IV rockets against Russian forces on its website. “Georgian Ministry of Defence’s Response to the Human Rights Watch Inquire [sic] about the Usage of M85 Bomblets.”

[17] Chile, Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report, Forms B and C, September 2012.

[18] It also exported EXTRA surface-to-surface missile system to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, but it is not known if ammunition containing submunitions were included in these deals. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “Arms Transfers Database.” Recipient report for Israel for the period 1950–2011, generated on 6 June 2012.

[19] Ari Rabinovitch, “A dozen firms interested in sale of Israel Military Industries,” Reuters, 28 May 2015; and Barbara Opall-Rome, “‘No Turning Back’ for IMI Sale,” Defense News, 21 March 2015.

[20]Elbit Systems Reportedly Seeks Acquisition of Israel Military Industries,” Bloomberg, 9 March 2016; and “IMI Privatization to Proceed,” Bloomberg, 8 May 2016.

[21] Former Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was named as Chairman of IMI. A. Pe'er, “Liberman Appoints New Heads of Defense Industries,” Hamodia, 4 July 2016.

[22] According to IMI, the M99 integrates a proximity sensor and an electronic/pyrotechnic self-destruct mechanism. It can be used in various rockets, projectiles and aerial dispensers. IMI webpage, “M99 Dual-Purpose Advanced Submunition,” undated.

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

[24] “The Ministry of Defense of Venezuela destroys cluster bombs” (“El Ministerio de la Defensa de Venezuela destruye bombas de racimo”),, 26 August 2011.

[25] Presentation on cluster munitions of the Ministry of Defense of Colombia, Bogotá, December 2010.

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

[27] Additionally, Israel has captured and possesses Grad 122mm surface-to-surface rocket launchers, but it is not known if the ammunition for these weapons includes versions with submunition payloads. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2011 (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 313; and Colin King, ed., Jane’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal 2007–2008, CD-edition, 15 January 2008 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2008).

[28] “The [Department of Defense] maintains a [war-reserve stockpile] in Israel. This is a separate stockpile of US-owned munitions and equipment set aside, reserved, or intended for use as war reserve stocks by the US and which may be transferred to the Government of Israel in an emergency, subject to reimbursement.” Legislative Proposals contained in a letter by the General Counsel of the Department of Defense to the chairs of the Congressional Armed Services Committees, 11 March 2004.

[29] According to the cable, until the munitions are transferred from the War Reserve Stockpiles for use by Israel in wartime, “they are considered to be under U.S. title, and U.S. legislation now prevents such a transfer of any cluster munitions with less than a one percent failure rate.” The cable described the inaugural meeting on 1 May 2008 of the “U.S.-Israeli Cluster Munitions Working Group (CMWG).” In this meeting, “Israeli MOD [Ministry of Defense], IDF and MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] officials warned that the current U.S. legislative prohibition on exporting cluster munitions” with more than a one-percent tested failure rate “seriously degrades Israel’s operational capabilities to defend itself.” “Cluster munitions: Israeli’s operational defensive capabilities crisis,” US Department of State cable 08TELAVIV1012 dated 7 May 2008, released by Wikileaks on 1 September 2011.

[30]Cluster munitions: Israeli’s operational defensive capabilities crisis,” US Department of State cable 08TELAVIV1012 dated 7 May 2008, released by Wikileaks on 1 September 2011.