Willy peter and DIME in the Gaza rampage

Willy peter is fast becoming Israel’s napalm in its war on Palestinians.

As anyone who has been on the ground in a combat zone can tell you, few weapons produce such dread as “willy peter”, military slang for white phosphorus detonations. Picture a substance which is pyrophoric, that is it burns spontaneously when in contact with oxygen, and at extremely high temperatures. If it gets on you, it burns in right away, cannot be extinguished if there’s any contact with air, resists water, and continues to sear its way into the body until it’s exhausted or deprived of oxygen. In Vietnam we spoke of willy peter with a kind of macho awe, and sincerely desired never to be hit by friendly-fire white phosphorus rounds.

A week or so ago, some of us internet savvy Vietnam veterans were seeing news photos which looked like something out of War of the Worlds, of artillery airbursts over densely packed Gaza neighborhoods, raining down white-hot clumps trailing thick smoke, and were alarmed that what we were seeing was willy peter. We didn’t think the news outlets even understood what they were publishing. We checked in with each other and all agreed that it was the dreaded weapon with which we were familiar.

Then other photos began appearing, a particularly horrifying sequence of the incendiary bombardment of a UNRWA school at Beit Lahia being used as a civilian shelter, in which two children were killed and their mother’s legs taken off, which circulated around various listservs, and a lot more people began getting familiar with what war crimes look like.

In the last week, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations have charged Israel with using banned weapons, in particular white phosphorus, in civilian settings. Such weapons are regulated by the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, more specifically by Protocol III on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons, which bans them in civilian areas.

The fiendish cruelty of a duo of MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) weapons is hard to fathom. Add to white phosphorus, which has been around since World War I, the recently-developed DIME (dense inert metal explosive) anti-personnel device, and the suffering of Gaza victims is almost beyond belief.

DIME explosives are designed for use in dense urban environments, ironically to limit collateral blast and shrapnel damage, as their lethality radius is smaller than traditional artillery shells. The delivery vehicle, a bomb, missile, or shell, is basically a carbon-fiber outer casing filled with a mix of high explosive and a dense powder of tungsten, cobalt and nickel. The powder is the essence of the design; it doesn’t react with the explosive, and is meant to be a kind of micro shrapnel, whose energy will dissipate in a short distance, much shorter than that of the jagged, heavy chunks of slicing metal in regular artillery bursts.

At close range the victim is mercifully obliterated, but at slightly further off, the wounds are horrific and as reported by Gaza doctors, almost impossibly difficult to treat. Blast amputations of lower limbs are clean and cauterized by intense heat, but the really fiendish cruelty of this supposedly “humane” weapon is that the powder, the “micro shrapnel” is blasted into the victim’s body, leaving thousands of pinprick surface entry points, but going all the way in to internal organs, where it lodges if it doesn’t pass through. The medical difficulties are legion at this point. This stuff is difficult to isolate and trace, as the particles are so tiny and there is so much of it, as opposed to a larger chunk of shrapnel. The victim’s internal organs then begin to fail, or there is a slow internal bleed-down. If that weren’t enough, this powder itself is highly carcinogenic.

Willy peter burns are similarly horrendous. Patients bandaged with traditional burn therapy return later complaining of increasing pain and agony. When the bandages are removed, Gaza doctors are reporting finding the wounds much larger and still smoking, as the white phosphorus has been burning inside the victim after treatment. They are then seeing accelerating burn rate as more oxygen is let into the wound with the bandages removed. It is hard to imagine a more grimly horrifying medical scene.

Willy peter and DIME weapons, along with the GBU-39 limited blast radius bomb, are part of a suite of MOUT devices developed for use in the worldwide counterinsurgency campaign being conducted by the U.S. and Israel, which is often located in the globe’s urban slums. All wars are in part experiments to test the real-time effectiveness of man’s ingenuity at slaughtering his own kind, and it is in this context that the latest episode of the massacre of Palestinians needs to be viewed, at least in part. Gaza, like Fallujah before it, has been a Dante’s Inferno test bed for the latest counterinsurgency terror weapons.

The appalling cruelty of untreatable wounds, slow death, and multiple amputations, especially in children, in the aftermath of the Gaza operation registers possibly a new low on the depravity scale, but its internal logic is pure cold calculation. In an earlier era soldiers expecting close-in hand-to-hand combat would deliberately blunt, or dull, their sabers’ cutting edge, so as to not kill their opponent, but to break his bones. The object would be to create a casualty who had to be cared for, thus removing two or three additional personnel as possible threats who had to attend to their comrade.

Israel’s deliberate and planned crippling of Gaza can be seen in this vein, but add to that the creation of the most hideous suffering in survivors of DIME and white phosphorus weapons, the goal of which can only be to totally traumatize a people and fill them with paralyzing dread and fear to force submission. This is the dark underbelly of Israel’s assault on Gaza, despite the endless chatter by media talking heads and armchair strategists on the nauseating “peace process” treadmill, and Israel’s relentless propaganda campaign to convince the world of its military’s “humanitarian restraint.”



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