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Israeli Officials Say Israel Designed and Manufactured Its Own Cluster Bombs As Long Ago As 1981

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and other officials maintained Thursday that Israel designed and manufactured its own cluster bombs as long ago as 1981 and therefore allegations that it stole American technology for the purpose are patently false. Moreover, the Israelis say, their cluster bombs were offered for sale in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Rabin said on a television interview that Israel developed the weapon for its artillery. It was being test fired in 1982 and quantities were in stock by 1984. He said there was no resemblance between the Israeli and American cluster bombs.

Israeli leaders reacted angrily to reports in the American media this week that the State-owned Israel Military Industries conspired with three private American companies to obtain cluster bomb technology in violation of U.S. law. The U.S. banned the export of cluster bombs to Israel in 1982 after reports that Israel used the deadly anti-personnel weapon in its invasion of Lebanon.

Two Iowa-based companies and one in Pennsylvania are under investigation by the Justice Department and the U.S. Customs Service on suspicion that they acted in collusion with Israeli weapons procurement agents to evade the Arms Export Control Act. The law limits military items that can be exported from the U.S. without an export license.

Premier Shimon Peres was officially informed of the ongoing investigation by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Pickering on Tuesday night. The Israel Embassy in Washington was also informed by the State Department. Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne met with Michael Armacost, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, at the State Department Thursday. Rosenne would not comment to reporters after he left the meeting.

RABIN AFFIRMS DEFENSE MINISTRY STATEMENT

The Defense Ministry issued an angry statement Wednesday denouncing the American media for reporting the investigation before it knew the facts.

Rabin affirmed the Defense Ministry’s statement that all technology acquired from the U.S. was obtained legally. “All we asked for, and we did so in the most formal manner — was industrial equipment which, by the way, we could also have obtained in Europe, but out of economic considerations, out of a desire to make beneficial use of the (American) aid money, we preferred the United States,” Rabin said.

He added, “We approached them, we asked for export permits. The development and production of bomblets is Israeli…Many countries have bomblets like this. It’s not an exclusive American patent. So I am amazed at all the noise that’s being made…” By “bomblets” Rabin was referring to the clusters of small bombs contained in a large bomb casing which give the weapon its name.

According to officials here, production of Israel-made cluster bombs was first disclosed in 1981 by Rafael, the Israel Weapons Development Authority, at a press conference. It was reported later by the then Israel Military Attache in Washington, Maj. Gen. Menahem Meron, on a Washington-based cable television interview.

Israel calls its weapon the Tal (Dew) cluster bomb and has described it in promotional literature and press kits as “an ingenious application of classic aerodynamic principles…resulting in Rafael’s development of an improved and highly effective submunition dispersion weapons.”

According to the description, “It produces hundreds of explosion centers in a large ground pattern covering as much as 50,000 square meters. Its effective area is up to 40 times greater than that of a general purpose bomb.”

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