July 27, 2006 - A tragic misstep, inevitable in war, occurred two days ago. Four international observers were killed when Israeli planes hit a U.N. outpost in southern Lebanon.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was "shocked and deeply distressed" and called the hit on the outpost "apparently deliberate."
Israel has denied that the strike was deliberate, has apologized, and has promised a full investigation of the incident. There is absolutely no reason to believe Israel hit the U.N. post deliberately. It would have nothing to gain by doing so. The only possible result would be a public outcry that could set back Israel's efforts in this war. To accuse Israel of intentionally committing an act so strongly against its own best interests is foolish, if not malevolent.
The words of one of the U.N. observers who died in this incident tell a different story. Just days earlier, in an e-mail dated July 18, Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, the Canadian observer, wrote:
What I can tell you is this. We have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both [Israeli] artillery and aerial bombing.
The closest artillery has landed within 2 meters of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity.
Retired Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie comments: "What that means is, in plain English, 'We've got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions, taking our positions here and then using us for shields and then engaging the [Israeli Defence Forces]."
Kofi Annan's accusation, without a single shred of evidence, and before any investigation has taken place, is irresponsible and reckless. It calls into question his ability to be an impartial mediator and reveals the biases of the U.N., as if they were even a secret. If Annan is "shocked and deeply distressed" at a strike on noncombatants that was "apparently" deliberate, why no "shock and deep distress" for the thousands of rocket attacks on Israeli noncombatants that were absolutely deliberate?
If the U.N. hopes to play a peacekeeping role in this conflict, its leader needs to set a better tone.
Kofi Annan expresses "shock and deep distress" only towards Israel. However, documents of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) tell a very different story. Official press releases reveal that Hezbollah has repeatedly used U.N. observers as human shields. Hezbollah frequently places its fighters close to U.N. positions, fires on the IDF and draws return fire toward the U.N. personnel. Hezbollah itself has fired on the U.N. observers a number of times. And at least in one instance Hezbollah has stored bombs near a U.N. position.
Excerpts from the press releases follow.
July 24: One unarmed UN military observer, a member of the Observer Group Lebanon (OGL), was seriously wounded by small arms fire in the patrol base in the Marun Al Ras area yesterday afternoon. According to preliminary reports, the fire originated from the Hezbollah side during an exchange with the IDF. He was evacuated by the UN to the Israeli side, from where he was taken by an IDF ambulance helicopter to a hospital in Haifa. He was operated on, and his condition is now reported as stable.
July 25:This morning, Hezbollah opened small arms fire at a UNIFIL convoy consisting of two armored personnel carriers (APC) on the road between Kunin and Bint Jubayl. There was some damage to the APCs, but no casualties, and the convoy was obliged to return to Kunin.
July 27: There were three incidents of firing close to UN positions in the last 24 hours from the Israeli side. It was also reported that Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of four UN positions at Marwahin, Alma Ash Shab, Brashit, and At Tiri. The UNIFIL Engineering Contingent from China successfully disposed of one mortar bomb inside the Ghanaian battalion position, in the area of Marwahin.
July 28: There were five other incidents of firing close to UN positions from the Israeli side. It was also reported that Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of five UN positions at Alma Ash Shab, At Tiri, Bayt Yahoun, Brashit, and Tibnin....
The number of troops in some Ghanaian battalion positions is somewhat reduced because of the increased safety risk for the troops due to frequent incidents of Hezbollah firing from the vicinity of the positions, and shelling and bombardment close to the positions from the Israeli side.
Note that in one case Israel rescued a U.N. worker who was seriously wounded by Hezbollah. Annan might have thought of that before accusing Israel of targeting his people deliberately.
Kom, Joel. "Hezbollah Was Using UN Post as 'Shield'." Ottawa Citizen, July 27, 2006.
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. "Lebanon - UNIFIL - UN Documents." UN.org, 2006.
Wilson, Scott and Robin Wright. "Israeli Airstrike Hits U.N. Outpost." Washington Post, July 26, 2006.
Peace with Realism