Israel won a small battle against creeping attempts to equate its use of white phosphorous in Gaza to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons, when The Observer in Britain issued a correction on the matter on Sunday.
“Contrary to the impression given in ‘Assad is a war criminal, but an attack will do nothing for the people of Syria’ (Comment, last week, page 34), white phosphorus, used by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2008, is not a chemical weapon as understood by the Chemical Weapons Convention, and its use is in itself not ‘in breach of all international conventions,’” the paper noted.
A week earlier, the Observer, which is The Guardian’s Sunday sister publication, ran an op-ed piece by Nabilia Ramdani, introduced to readers as a “French-Arab journalist who worked extensively in Syria until the Arab Spring,” arguing against US military intervention in Syria.
“Others point to the hypocrisy of the West, which continues to provide some of the most lethal weapons known to mankind to its political and trade allies,” she wrote. “USsourced white phosphorus shells – a chemical weapon that causes severe burning right down to the bone – were used by Israeli forces against Palestinians in Gaza in 2008 in breach of all international conventions, for example.”
This paragraph raised the ire of the Israeli Embassy in London.
The spokesman there, Yiftah Curiel, contacted the editors of the Observer and requested a correction that – after a degree of give and take – was indeed provided.
“This is an example of zero tolerance for disinformation,” the official said. “If this goes unchallenged, then it becomes the conventional and accepted wisdom. It needs to be corrected.”
Israeli officials said this “setting the record straight” was especially important in this case amid pernicious efforts – with the world’s attention focused on Assad’s use of chemical weapons – to blame Israel for having used chemical weapons in the past.