Israel

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 11 December 2023

Summary

Non-signatory Israel acknowledges the humanitarian concerns associated with cluster munitions, but has not taken any steps to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions as it sees military utility in the weapon. Israel has never attended a meeting of the convention. It abstained from voting on a key United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution promoting the convention in December 2022.

Israel has developed, produced, exported, and acquired cluster munitions, but it has not used them since 2006. The country’s last manufacturer of cluster munitions, IMI Systems, ended its production in 2018 after being acquired by Elbit Systems Ltd. The government of Israel has yet to commit to not produce cluster munitions in the future. Israeli-made or copied cluster munition mortar projectiles were photographed in possession of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in December 2022. Israel possesses stockpiled cluster munitions and also hosts United States (US) stocks of cluster munitions.

 

Policy

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

Israel has not taken any steps to join the convention as it sees military utility in cluster munitions. Israel rarely comments on the convention, but criticized it in 2011 for being too “expansive” and for lacking the support of “relevant states.”[1]

Israel did not participate in the Oslo Process that created the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[2] The convention, adopted in Dublin in May 2008, came into being less than two years after Israel extensively used cluster munitions in Lebanon in 2006.  

Israel has never participated in a meeting of the convention, even as an observer. Israel was invited to, but did not attend, the convention’s Tenth Meeting of States Parties held in Geneva in August–September 2022.

Israel abstained from voting on a key UNGA resolution in December 2022 that urged states outside the convention to “join as soon as possible.”[3] It has abstained from voting on the annual UNGA resolution promoting the convention since it was first introduced in 2015.

Israel has voted in favor of UNGA resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria.[4]

Israel is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty.

Israel is a State Party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) and opposed any CCW discussion about regulating cluster munitions until 2008.[5] It has expressed regret that states failed in 2011 to adopt a draft CCW protocol on cluster munitions, but has not proposed further CCW deliberations on the matter.[6]

 

Use

There is no evidence to indicate that Israel has used cluster munitions since July–August 2006 in southern Lebanon against Hezbollah forces.[7]

The Israeli government’s Winograd Commission of Inquiry into the 2006 conflict in Lebanon found a lack of clarity concerning the acceptable or appropriate use of cluster munitions.[8] In 2006, Israel defended its use of cluster munitions as conforming with “accepted practice” and international humanitarian law.[9]

Israel also used cluster munitions in Lebanon in 1978, and again in 1982 against Syrian forces and non-state armed groups (NSAGs). In 1973, Israel used cluster munitions in Syria against NSAG training camps near Damascus.[10] The Israeli Air Force also used cluster bombs to target Egyptian air defense positions in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.[11]

 

Production and transfer

Israel has developed, acquired, produced, and exported cluster munitions. At the end of 2018, Israel’s last cluster munition manufacturer Israel Military Industries (IMI) was acquired by Elbit Systems Ltd., which changed the name of the company to IMI Systems and announced that it was discontinuing the production of cluster munitions. The government of Israel has not committed to never produce cluster munitions in the future.

In the past, IMI developed, produced, licensed the production, and exported numerous types of cluster munitions including artillery projectiles (105mm, 122mm, 130mm, 152mm, 155mm, 175mm, and 203mm), mortar projectiles (120mm), and rockets (EXTRA, GRADLAR, and LAR-160).[12] Most of the cluster munitions delivered M85 dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunitions.[13] More recently, IMI developed the 155mm M999 “Advanced AntiPersonnel Munition” that delivers M99 DPICM submunitions.[14]

Israeli-made or copied M971 120mm cluster munition mortar projectiles were photographed in possession of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in December 2022.[15] Each M971 120mm mortar projectile delivers 24 M87 DPICM submunitions. The M87 submunition has been described as an M85 submunition “that has had its fuze modified to allow it to be fired by mortar projectiles.”[16] Israel originally produced this type of cluster munition, but it is not known how or from whom Ukraine acquired it. Russia is not known to stockpile them.

In the past, Israel concluded licensing agreements for the production or assembly of M85 DPICM submunitions with Germany, India, Romania, Switzerland, Türkiye, the United Kingdom (UK), and the US.[17] Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and the UK have declared stockpiling 155mm artillery projectiles containing M85 submunitions in their Article 7 transparency reports for the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Azerbaijan received a total of 50 EXTRA missiles and LAR-160 rockets from Israel for its Lynx-type launchers in 2008–2009.[18] Georgia received four GRADLAR rocket launchers from Israel in 2007.[19] Chile has reported that it possessed 249 LAR-160 cluster munition rockets.[20] Israel reportedly also exported the LAR-160 rocket system to Venezuela.[21]

Israeli company Elbit Systems Ltd. acquired IMI in November 2018 and renamed it IMI Systems. In January 2019, the vice president of Elbit Systems Ltd., David Vaknin, told media that “As part of the Elbit Systems organization, IMI Systems will not be continuing its prior activities with respect to cluster munitions. All of Elbit Systems activities relating to munitions, including those activities to be continued by IMI Systems, will be conducted in accordance with applicable international conventions or US law.”[22]

In October 2020, a company representative confirmed that “Elbit Systems has discontinued production, sales and deliveries of IMI’s M999 submunition, as well as all other munitions that are prohibited under the Convention on Cluster Munitions.”[23]

Other Israeli companies developed and produced several types of air-dropped cluster munitions in the past. The Rafael Corporation produced ATAP-300, ATAP-500, ATAP-1000 RAM, TAL-1, and TAL-2 cluster bombs, as well as the BARAD Helicopter Submunition Dispenser.[24] In 2011, Venezuela destroyed TAL-1 cluster bombs belonging to its air force.[25] An air-dropped cluster bomb of Israeli origin called ARC-32 was stockpiled by Colombia.[26]

In the past, Israel has imported cluster munitions from the US, including M26 rockets (each with 644 M77 DPICM submunitions) for its M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) launchers and 155mm M483A1 projectiles (each with 88 M42/M46 submunitions). Israel used both in southern Lebanon in 2006. Israel has also received and used US-made and supplied Rockeye cluster bombs (each with 247 submunitions) and CBU-58B cluster bombs (each with 650 submunitions).[27]

In 2017, a government assessment for the upgrade of artillery systems used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly rejected a German-made artillery system due to the insistence of Germany that Israel must not use it to deliver cluster munitions.[28]

 

Stockpiling

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 in the previous section.[29]

Israeli media reported in September 2018 that the Israeli Air Force was preparing to destroy unspecified types of air-dropped cluster munitions.[30]

Israel hosts a stockpile of US ammunition, which could be transferred to Israel for use in an emergency.[31] A 2008 US Department of State cable, released by Wikileaks in 2011, contained the claim that US-manufactured cluster munitions with a more than 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).”[32] Israeli officials reportedly warned the US that “unless the [US] prohibition [on exporting cluster munitions with a more than 1% tested failure rate] 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.”[33]



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

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

[3]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 77/79, 7 December 2022.  

[4]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution 75/193, 16 December 2020. Israel voted in favor of similar UNGA resolutions on Syria in 2013–2020.

[5] Letter from Rodica Radian-Gordon, Director, Arms Control Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to HRW, 23 February 2009. In 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the views it expressed in a 2009 letter to the Monitor remained unchanged. Letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 19 June 2011. See also, statement of Israel, CCW Fourth Review Conference, Geneva, 25 November 2011. Notes by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV).

[6] In 2015, Israel again expressed regret and said “the CCW should remain open to the possibility of returning to this important issue in an opportune time in the future.” Statement of Israel, CCW Meeting of the High Contracting Parties, Geneva, 12 November 2015.

[8] 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, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) lawyers informed the US that the “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 30 August 2011.

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

[10] 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 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,” February 2008, p. 26.

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

[12] Information on surface-launched cluster munitions produced and possessed by Israel was taken primarily from IMI’s corporate website (no longer available online) and supplemented with information from Leland S. Ness and Anthony G. Williams, eds., Jane’s Ammunition Handbook 2007–2008 (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2007); and US Defense Intelligence Agency, “Improved Conventional Munitions and Selected Controlled-Fragmentation Munitions (Current and Projected) DST-1160S-020-90,” undated.

[13] 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 at the 48th Annual Fuze Conference, Charlotte, 27–28 April 2004, slide 9.

[14] In October 2018, an IMI official told The New York Times that each M999 shell contains nine M99 submunitions with self-destruct features. John Ismay, “With North Korean Threats Looming, the U.S. Army Pursues Controversial Weapons,” The New York Times, 30 October 2018. The US spent US$2.5 million in 2018 to test the M999 Advanced Anti-Personnel Munition, but no funds have been spent since then. Defense Technical Information Center, US Department of Defense, “Weapons and Munitions Engineering Development: System Development & Demonstration, Program Element Number: 0604802A,” February 2018, pp. 77–82.

[15] War in Ukraine (Rinegati), “In Ukraine, something very similar to Israeli M971 mortar cluster munitions has been spotted.  Unlike standard cluster munitions, the M971 has a built-in self-destruct mechanism for unexploded submunitions, making them much safer for civilians.” 18 December 2022, 12:50 UTC. Tweet; Ukraine Weapons Tracker (UAWeapons), “Who supplied them to Ukraine? That's not clear. A very limited number of countries reported possession of such mortar bombs and we tend to believe what we see was exported from a country which previously purchased these bombs from Israel.” 17 December 2022, 20:18 UTC. Tweet; and “Ukraine received M971 cluster mines (VIDEO),” UATV, 18 December 2022.

[16] It is not clear whether the M87 has a self-destruct feature. See, LinkedIn post by Sean Moorhouse, April 2022. “Israeli mortar bombs being used by Ukrainian Armed Forces. The M-87 Bantam sub-munition is basically an M-85 that has had its fuze modified to allow it to be fired by mortars. It is not clear whether or not both the M-85 and the M-87 have self-destruct features or only the M-85. There is conflicting information out there.”

[18] 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.

[19] Georgia used the launchers with 160mm Mk IV rockets, each containing 104 M85 DPICM submunitions, during the 2008 conflict with Russia. The transfer of the GRADLAR launchers was reported in the United Nations (UN) Register of Conventional Arms. See, 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. Ministry of Defense of Georgia, “Georgian Ministry of Defence’s Response to the Human Rights Watch Inquire [sic] about the Usage of M85 Bomblets,” undated.

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

[21] Israel also exported the EXTRA missile system to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, but it is not known if submunitions were included in these deals. SIPRI, “Arms Transfers Database,” Recipient report for Israel for the period 1950–2011, generated on 6 June 2012.

[22] Tovah Lazaroff, “Elbit rejects HSBC’s BDS disclaimer stating: ‘We don’t produce cluster bombs’,” Jerusalem Post, 3 January 2019; and PAX, “Elbit Systems confirms cluster munitions exit,” 23 January 2019.

[23] Email to PAX from David Block Temin, Executive Vice President, Chief Compliance Officer, and Senior Counsel, Elbit Systems Ltd., 14 October 2020.

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

[26] Presentation of the Ministry of National Defense of Colombia, Bogotá, December 2010.

[28] Gideon Levy, “The Cluster-Bomb Nation,” Haaretz, 10 August 2017; and Gill Cohen, “Israeli Army Buying Local Cannons to Sidestep International Ban on Cluster Bombs,” Haaretz, 8 August 2017.

[29] 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 (IISS), The Military Balance 2011 (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 313; and Colin King, ed., Jane’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal 2007–2008, CD-edition (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, January 2008).

[30] According to the report, a tender has been issued for bids from commercial companies to destroy air-dropped cluster munitions, but the “IDF has so far not said that it will be destroying the cluster bombs fired by rockets and artillery shells.” Yaniv Kubovich, “Israel Air Force Plans to Destroy Controversial Cluster Bombs,” Haaretz, 18 September 2018.

[31] “The [US 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 from the General Counsel of the US Department of Defense to the chairs of the Congressional Armed Services Committees, 11 March 2004.

[32] 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 1% tested failure rate “seriously degrades Israel’s operational capabilities to defend itself.” See, “Cluster munitions: Israeli’s operational defensive capabilities crisis,” US Department of State cable 08TELAVIV1012 dated 7 May 2008, released by Wikileaks on 30 August 2011.

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