Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus in Lebanon attack (2024)




Alex Horton


Meg Kelly

Updated December 11, 2023 at 3:48 p.m. EST|Published December 11, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EST

Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus in Lebanon attack (1)


7 min




DHEIRA, Lebanon — Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus munitions in an October attack in southern Lebanon that injured at least nine civilians in what a rights group says should be investigated as a war crime, according to a Washington Post analysis of shell fragments found in a small village.

A journalist working for The Post found remnants of three 155mm artillery rounds fired into Dheira, near the border of Israel, which incinerated at least four homes, residents said. The rounds eject felt wedges saturated with white phosphorus, which burns at high temperatures, producing billowing smoke that obscures troop movements as the substance falls haphazardly over a wide area. It can stick to skin, causing potentially fatal burns and respiratory damage, and its use near civilian areas is generally prohibited under international humanitarian law.

Of the nine injured in Israel’s attack on Dheira, at least three were hospitalized, one for days.

Lot production codes found on the shells match the nomenclature used by the U.S. military to categorize domestically produced munitions, which show they were made by ammunition depots in Louisiana and Arkansas in 1989 and 1992. The light-green color and other markings — like “WP” printed on one of the remnants — are consistent with white phosphorus rounds, according to arms experts.

The M825 smoke rounds, fired from 155mm howitzers, have legitimate use on the battlefield, including signaling friendly troops, marking targets and producing white smoke that conceals soldiers from the eyes of enemy forces. The rounds are not intended for use as incendiary weapons.

The weapons are part of billions of dollars in U.S. munitions that flow to Israel every year and have fueled Israel’s war on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, launched after the group attacked inside Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people. At least 17,700 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed since the Israeli operation began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Following publication of this story, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the administration is “concerned” about the use of white phosphorus munitions and that it would be “asking questions to try to learn a bit more.”

Biden’s arming of Israel faces backlash as Gaza’s civilian toll grows

Tensions along Lebanon’s southern border between Israeli forces and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia, have boiled over from a simmer to near-daily exchanges of fire in the weeks since Oct. 7.

Dheira, a town of 2,000, has become a focal point for fighting. Just across the border from an Israeli radar tower, it has been used as a staging ground for Hezbollah’s attacks against Israel. At least 94 people have been killed on the Lebanese side of the border since tensions escalated, according to data released on Dec. 5 by the country’s Health Ministry — 82 have been militants, according to Hezbollah. In addition, at least 11 Israelis have been killed, most of them soldiers.

Photos and videos verified by Amnesty International and reviewed by The Post show the characteristic ribbons of white phosphorus smoke falling over Dheira on Oct. 16.

Israeli forces continued to shell the town with white phosphorus munitions for hours, residents said, trapping them in their homes until they were able to escape about 7 the next morning. Residents now refer to the attack as the “black night.”

Most fled the town when the shelling stopped, returning during a week-long pause in fighting and leaving again when it resumed.

Uday Abu Sari, a 29-year-old farmer, said in an interview that he was trapped in his home for five hours during the shelling and was unable to breathe because of the smoke. He suffered respiratory problems for days after the attack.

“Emergency services told us to put something that was soaked in water on our faces, which helped a bit. I couldn’t see my finger in front of my face,” he said. “The whole village became white.”

White phosphorus ignites when in contact with oxygen and burns at temperatures up to 1,500 degrees, which can cause severe injuries. The chemicals left in the body can damage internal organs, sometimes causing death, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

It is unclear why the Israeli military fired the rounds into the evening, as smoke would have little practical use at night and there were no Israeli troops on the Lebanese side of the border to mask with smokescreens. Residents speculated that the phosphorus was meant to displace them from the village and to clear the way for future Israeli military activity in the area.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces wrote that white phosphorus shells launched by Israel are used to create smokescreens, not for targeting or causing fires. It said its use of the weapon “complies and goes beyond the requirements of international law.”

Israeli forces possess safer alternatives, such as M150 artillery rounds, which produce screening smoke without the use of white phosphorus.


The U.S. origin of the shells was verified by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The same manufacturing codes also appear on white phosphorus shells lined up next to Israeli artillery by the city of Sderot, near the Gaza Strip, in an Oct. 9 photo.

The United States is under an obligation to track the behavior of its partners and allies who receive its assistance in order to comply with U.S. law, said experts in humanitarian law. The use of white phosphorus smoke is permitted if used for legitimate military operations, but as with other weapons, its misuse can violate laws of armed conflict. Rights groups have warned that its use should be restricted around civilians because fire and smoke can be spread to populated areas.

“The fact that U.S.-produced white phosphorus is being used by Israel in south Lebanon should be of great concern to U.S. officials,” Tirana Hassan, executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in an email. “[Congress] should take reports of Israel’s use of white phosphorus seriously enough to reassess U.S. military aid to Israel.”

The United States is not conducting real-time assessments of Israel’s adherence to the laws of war, Biden administration officials said.

“Any time that we provide items like white phosphorus to another military, it is with a full expectation that it’ll be used in keeping with … legitimate purposes and in keeping with the law of armed conflict,” Kirby said.

It is unclear when the United States delivered the munitions to Israel. It has not provided white phosphorus munitions to Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, told reporters Monday.

“When it comes to our relationship with Israel, we’ll continue to communicate to them the importance of mitigating civilian harm,” Ryder said, adding that the department could not yet verify that the weapons were from U.S. stocks.

White phosphorus fell onto several homes and ignited fires, incinerating furniture and stripping appliances to scorched metal. Remnants of the sticky, black chemical littered the ground 40 days after the attack and combusted when residents kicked at it.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch documented Israel’s use of U.S.-made white phosphorus munitions in violation of international law in its 22-day offensive in Gaza. At least one of the shells found by The Post in Dheira was from the same batch of white phosphorus used by Israel in 2009, according to lot production codes.

In 2013, the Israeli military pledged to stop using white phosphorus on the battlefield, saying it would transition to gas-based smoke shells.

Israel has used the munition more than 60 times in Lebanon’s border areas in the past two months, according to data collected by ACLED, a group that monitors war zones. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Dec. 2 that Israel’s use of the munition has “killed civilians and produced irreversible damage to more than 5 million square meters of forests and farmland, in addition to damaging thousands of olive trees.”

Tyler Pager aboard Air Force One, Missy Ryan in Washington and Mohamad El Chamaa in Beirut contributed to this report.

Israel-Gaza war

Israeli soldiers fighting in Gaza mistakenly shot dead three Israeli hostages, the IDF said. Follow the latest news on the Israel-Gaza war.

A U.S. intelligence assessment has found almost half of the munitions Israel has used in Gaza since the war began have been unguided bombs, a ratio that some arms experts say helps explain the conflict’s enormous civilian death toll.

Hostages: More than 100 held in the Gaza Strip have been released. Here’s what we know about those released by Hamas so far.

Oct. 7 attack: Hamas spent more than a year planning its assault on Israel. A Washington Post video analysis shows how Hamas exploited vulnerabilities created by Israel’s reliance on technology at the “Iron Wall,” the security barrier around the Gaza Strip, to carry out the deadliest attack in Israel’s history. Traders earned millions of dollars anticipating the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, a study found.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has a complicated history. Understand what’s behind the Israel-Gaza war and see the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I can dive into this analysis with confidence. The evidence provided strongly indicates that Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus munitions in an October attack in southern Lebanon. Here's the breakdown:

  1. Munition Origin: The lot production codes on the shells match the nomenclature used by the U.S. military, indicating they were domestically produced in ammunition depots in Louisiana and Arkansas in 1989 and 1992. This is a crucial piece of evidence supporting the claim.

  2. Physical Characteristics: The light-green color and markings like "WP" on one of the remnants are consistent with white phosphorus rounds, as confirmed by arms experts.

  3. Intended Use: The M825 smoke rounds, fired from 155mm howitzers, are acknowledged to have legitimate uses on the battlefield, such as signaling friendly troops, marking targets, and producing white smoke for concealing soldiers. However, their use as incendiary weapons near civilian areas is generally prohibited under international humanitarian law.

  4. Impact and Injuries: The aftermath in Dheira, with at least nine civilians injured, four homes incinerated, and residents suffering from respiratory problems, aligns with the known effects of white phosphorus, which burns at high temperatures and can cause severe injuries and respiratory damage.

  5. Historical Context: The report cites previous instances, including Israel's use of U.S.-made white phosphorus munitions in 2009 in violation of international law.

  6. Current Response: The National Security Council expressed concern, and there's a call for investigation as the use of white phosphorus near civilians raises serious questions about adherence to international law.

This detailed analysis, with concrete evidence and historical context, paints a compelling picture of the situation.

Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus in Lebanon attack (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Duane Harber

Last Updated:

Views: 6284

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Duane Harber

Birthday: 1999-10-17

Address: Apt. 404 9899 Magnolia Roads, Port Royceville, ID 78186

Phone: +186911129794335

Job: Human Hospitality Planner

Hobby: Listening to music, Orienteering, Knapping, Dance, Mountain biking, Fishing, Pottery

Introduction: My name is Duane Harber, I am a modern, clever, handsome, fair, agreeable, inexpensive, beautiful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.