IDF condemns phosphorus shells after ‘Gaza-launched’ attack, possibly tampered with evidence

After targeting over a million Palestinian civilians in Gaza with barrages of white phosphorus shells during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, the Israeli military is making it clear that phosphorus weapons are illegal under international law. According to the website for the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson:

“Mortar shells containing phosphorus, which when exposed to air burn through anything with which they come into contact, are illegal under international law when fired at civilians.”

Ignoring the blatant hypocrisy behind this particular reminder, the report itself contains a major inconsistency. In the brief news report released on 21 August 2011, the IDF spokesperson alleges that a “mortar shell with phosphorus was fired at the Kerem Shalom land crossing along the Israel-Gaza border”. It shows two photographs (embedded within screenshots of the website):

Although Haaretz did not release any reports on this particular incident, another popular Israeli daily, Ynet, did. Following is a screenshot of a “Breaking News Update”:

According to the Ynet update, one of the mortars launched towards Kerem Shalom “was a phosphorus bomb that failed to detonate”.

Although I am by no means an expert on mortar construction, I do know that the harmful explosives actually lie within the nose of the mortar. A detonated mortar will result in a nose-less shell most likely burned, discolored, or physically scarred during the subsequent blast. In the first photograph offered by the IDF Spokesperson’s website, the mortar is nose-less. This implies one of two things: Either the shell detonated upon impact or the nose was forcibly removed before the mortar could explode.

Unfortunately for the Israeli military, both of these possibilities compromise its credibility.

If the photograph provided by the IDF Spokesperson is in fact of a detonated shell, it stands in direct contradiction with the report released by Ynet which explicitly states that the single phosphorus bomb did not detonate.

On the other hand, if the first photograph shows a suspiciously damaged mortar shell with the nose removed, this could very well be an attempt by the Israeli military to hide the “identity” of the projectile. If this is the case, the first photograph serves the purpose of a stand-in stock photograph. There is no way to positively identify this particular shell as a phosphorus mortar, specifically because the specialized nose capsule where the phosphorus would be held is removed and hidden from view.

Meanwhile, the second photograph shows an undetonated mortar shell dug into the ground. This photograph is significantly more consistent with the Israeli military’s story than is the first photograph, but this still does not verify the presence of a phosphorus shell. Assuming that the mortar was not tampered with, that it did not detonate, and that it had indeed landed in the position it was photographed in, the nose would still be attached to it. But because the nose is yet again hidden from the viewer, the shell’s true identity as a phosphorus mortar is questionable.

How can a viewer be certain that the photographed mortar wasn’t actually the shell of a regular mortar selectively placed into a clearing of sand and dirt?

And more importantly, why is there absolutely no sign of an impact-based crater surrounding the mortar? Assuming this particular mortar shell was launched from an artillery weapon, fundamental physics demands that the high velocity of the shell would inevitably leave some sort of impact even if it did not detonate.

Ultimately, was a phosphorus shell really fired toward an Israeli land crossing today?

These questions cannot be ignored given the fact that the Israeli military has a history of deceptive photo, video, and audio editing and exploiting, especially when the Israeli military urgently needs to justify some sort of military action. For example, after Israel’s deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, the Israeli military was forced to retract its edited Flotilla footage. In another instance, the Israeli military released a series of photographs taken from 2006 and earlier to represent the alleged weapons found aboard the Flotilla in 2010. These fake photographs of “seized weapons” offer much insight into the Israeli military’s credibility.

At a time when it appears that Israel is escalating for another invasion of the Gaza Strip, it should not come as a surprise if the Israeli army is revealed to have lied about the phosphorus shell in an attempt to justify a forthcoming assault on the besieged population of Gaza.

But the worst part about this all is that the Israeli military has the audacity to condemn the use of phosphorus weapons only after using them ceaselessly and shamelessly on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

Sami Kishawi

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