This week saw some especially blunt words from UN leaders directed against Israel. When the UN bureaucracy, and especially its secretary-general, express itself, it's customarily with considerable restraint, avoiding the assertion of facts that might be subject to controversy, and with due respect to any sensitivities on one side of an argument or the other.
But not when the targest is Israel. Against Israel, it's long been open season at the UN. Basically, you can never go too far.
The background: Several members of the UN force in Southern Lebanon were killed after their post came under Israeli fire. The dead men came from Austria, Finland, Canada and China. Israel's ambassador to the US made the fairly obvious observation to the media that "'UNIFIL obviously got caught in the middle" of a gunfight between Hezbollah guerillas and Israeli troops.' That's not how it appeared to Kofi Annan who said he was "shocked" at Israel's "apparently deliberate targeting" of the UN post. He said it took place "despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire."
Yesterday, the widow of the unfortunate Canadian victim turned to the media, echoing Kofi Annan, and demanded an explanation from the Israeli authorities:
"I've been told ... that the Israelis chose to bomb that site with three guided missiles. They're UN soldiers. That should have been the safest place to be. They should not have bombed that site, period," the widow told reporters at a Canadian forces base in Kingston, Ontario.Now it appears that her late husband himself, tragically, provided some critically important information that - as far as we can tell - is being ignored by Mr Annan, the media and everyone else. Here's what a Canadian newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen, has now reported:
Hezbollah was using UN post as 'shield'That's the whole report. Does it provide a full explanation? Is Israel innocent? No, it's far too soon to tell, and war is far too confusing and chaotic for that. But it's the sort of information that helps people understand the tragic nature of events that are currently on top of us.
Canadian wrote of militia's presence, 'necessity' of bombing
The words of a Canadian United Nations observer written just days before he was killed in an Israeli bombing of a UN post in Lebanon are evidence Hezbollah was using the post as a "shield" to fire rockets into Israel, says a former UN commander in Bosnia.
Those words, written in an e-mail dated just nine days ago, offer a possible explanation as to why the post -- which according to UN officials was clearly marked and known to Israeli forces -- was hit by Israel on Tuesday night, said retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie yesterday.
The strike hit the UN observation post in the southern Lebanese village of El Khiam, killing Canadian Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener and three others serving as unarmed UN military observers in the area.
Just last week, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener wrote an e-mail about his experiences after nine months in the area, words Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie said are an obvious allusion to Hezbollah tactics.
"What I can tell you is this," he wrote in an e-mail to CTV dated July 18. "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 (sic) of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters (sic) from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity."
Those words, particularly the last sentence, are not-so-veiled language indicating Israeli strikes were aimed at Hezbollah targets near the post, said Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie.
"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)," he said.
That would mean Hezbollah was purposely setting up near the UN post, he added. It's a tactic Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie, who was the first UN commander in Sarajevo during the Bosnia civil war, said he's seen in past international missions: Aside from UN posts, fighters would set up near hospitals, mosques and orphanages.
A Canadian Forces infantry officer with the Edmonton-based Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the only Canadian serving as a UN military observer in Lebanon, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener was no stranger to fighting nearby.
The UN post, he wrote in the e-mail, afforded a view of the "Hezbollah static positions in and around our patrol Base."
"It appears that the lion's share of fighting between the IDF and Hezbollah has taken place in our area," he wrote, noting later it was too dangerous to venture out on patrols.
The e-mail appears to contradict the UN's claim there had been no Hezbollah activity in the vicinity of the strike.
The question of Hezbollah's infiltration of the area is significant because UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking Tuesday just hours after the bombing, accused the Israelis of the "apparently deliberate targeting" of the base near Khiam in southern Lebanon.
A senior UN official, asked about the information contained in Maj. Hess-von Kruedener's e-mail concerning Hezbollah presence in the vicinity of the Khiam base, denied the world body had been caught in a contradiction.
"At the time, there had been no Hezbollah activity reported in the area," he said. "So it was quite clear they were not going after other targets; that, for whatever reason, our position was being fired upon.
"Whether or not they thought they were going after something else, we don't know. The fact was, we told them where we were. They knew where we were. The position was clearly marked, and they pounded the hell out of us."
Even if Hezbollah was not firing rockets at the time of the bombing, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener's e-mail indicates they were using a terrorist tactic of purposely drawing out enemy forces near a neutral site, said retired Capt. Peter Forsberg, who did two UN tours between 1993 and 1995 during the Bosnian war.
The UN's limited mandate, meaning that its observers are unarmed and have few options, put the observers in a poor position, he said.
If indeed Israel was attempting to hit Hezbollah fighters in the area, it hasn't yet used the excuse to explain its actions because it wouldn't make it any less guilty in the world's eyes, Capt. Forsberg said.
But we can say what a pity it is that the UN and its distinguished secretary-general has not felt it appropriate to comment on information that clearly makes the story a little less black and white than he made it appear.
Did Maj. Hess-von Kruedener's email make it into your news media? And how about the reports of Hizbullah forces opening fire this week on UNIFIL in the same area? Right, that's what we thought.
Shabbat Shalom - may the peace of Sabbath quieten the missiles and their masters.