Israeli Airstrike Hits U.N. Outpost; Annan Says Deliberate

Israel bombing a UN observation post–again–last night, killing four observers. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan charges that it was done deliberately.

An Israeli airstrike hit a United Nations post in southern Lebanon late Tuesday, killing four international observers, hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to lift Israel’s 14-day blockade of Lebanon for shipments of humanitarian aid to reach the swelling ranks of displaced Lebanese civilians.

U.N. officials said an aerial shell struck an observer post in the hilltop town of Khiyam, and rescue teams reached the site soon after to search for survivors in the rubble. Milos Strugar, a senior adviser for the mission, known by the acronym UNIFIL, said the four observers inside the post had taken cover in bunkers after 14 Israeli airstrikes landed nearby throughout the afternoon.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was “shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting” of the “clearly marked U.N. post at Khiyam.” Annan said Olmert had given him “personal assurances” that U.N. posts would not be targeted, adding that the UNIFIL commander had been in “repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular U.N. position from attack.” “I call on the government of Israel to conduct a full investigation into this very disturbing incident and demand that any further attack on U.N. positions and personnel must stop,” Annan said.

Israeli government officials, expressing regret over the deaths, said that the U.N. personnel were not targeted and that there would be an investigation.

A Jerusalem Post report adds,

UN military personnel on the ground along the Israel-Lebanon border say the munitions that hit the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) position early Wednesday were precision-guided, a UN source told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. Furthermore, the source added, the strike came after repeated requests by UNTSO commanders to the IDF not to strike that specific position. The IDF spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that the army was looking into the allegations and that it deeply regretted the “tragic death” of the UN personnel.

Yet more from The Guardian:

“I spoke to Mr Olmert and he definitely believes it was a mistake and has expressed his deep sorrow, ” Mr Annan told a press conference in Rome. “But the shelling started in the morning and went on until after 7pm. You cannot imagine the anguish of the unarmed men and women peacekeepers who were there.”

According to a detailed timeline of the incident provided by an unidentified UN officer and reported by CNN, the first bomb exploded around 200 metres from the post at 1.20pm (11.20am BST) yesterday. Unifil observers then telephoned their designated contact with the Israeli military, who assured them the attacks would stop. In the following hours, nine more bombs fell close to the post, each one followed by a call to the Israeli military, the UN officer said. The main Unifil base in the town of Naqoura lost contact with the post at 7.40pm, seemingly the time when the post received a direct hit.

The UN office in Naqoura could not be contacted today.

The four monitors came from Austria, Canada, China and Finland. The Chinese foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, said today he was saddened by the news and that it showed “we should try harder to call on the parties to be restrained and to be calm and restore the peace process of the Middle East immediately”.

Richard Fernandez argues the absurdity of Israel’s deliberate targetting of a UN post. He provides a detailed timeline of UNIFIL activities since the start of the present conflict and adds:

All the incidents of IDF fire reported in the press releases are clearly related to some kind of nearby combat with the Hezbollah. In one case the IDF fired on a village into which the UNIFIL had gone, but rockets had originated from the vicinity of the village prior. In another case, an Israeli aerial bombardment detonated mines all around a UNIFIL position. Those mines were presumably not planted by UNIFIL, but they were so close to it that the UN position caught fire. The UN observation post in Maroun al-Ras was hit by artillery, but we know from press reports that Maroun al-Ras was the epicenter of heavy fighting and the location of a Hezbollah bunker complex. The UN even ran a convoy from the Hezbollah “capital” of Bint Jubayl to another area. Bint Jubayl is well known to be the target of an IDF attack. Yet the UN felt that it was possible to move convoys through such areas, albeit at considerable danger.

Ed Lasky terms Annan’s reaction a “snap judgment” and observes, reasonably enough,

In the fog of war accidents inevitably happen and that Israel has already deeply apologized for this accident. Hezbollah has a tactic of locating its forces near UNIFIL and other UN outposts (as well as civilian outposts) to discourage Israeli attacks, since Israel, unlike Hezbollhah, tries to spare the lives of innocents.

Annan seems more exercised by this accident than the truly deliberate kidnapping and killing of Israeli soldiers and the indiscriminate mass rocket attacks Israel is being forced to endure because the UN was pusillanimous in refusing to enforce its resolutions regarding terror forces in Southern Lebanon.

Annan, as the world’s chief diplomat, is charged with the responsibility of good judgment and temperate, well-considered remarks. He seems to have a penchant for violating this obligation when it comes to issues involving Israel. He also was quick to claim a few weeks ago that Israeli shelling caused the deaths of Palestinians on a Gaza beach.

One presumes the fact that the IDF hit another UN OP a week ago contributed to Annan’s “snap judgment.” While I would agree with Lasky that Hezbollah’s deliberate proximity to non-combatant targets largely explains both incidents, if Annan actually warned Israel about this specific OP and they bombed it anyway, they have violated the laws of war.

Regardless, Steve Clemons is likely right in wondering,

[W]hat nations want to contribute to an “International Stabilization Force” now? It will be hard enough to convince UN member nations to contribute troops to such a force — but also tough to get them to continue to disarm and incapacitate Hezbollah militants. Add Israeli air strikes to the mix, and the incentives to get such a force together are nearly impossible to imagine.

One would think.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    if Annan actually warned Israel about this specific OP and they bombed it anyway, they have violated the laws of war.

    Yeah, I’m sure that Israel is all broken-up over that.

    Just like they were over the Liberty.

  2. DC Loser says:

    Anderson – there you go bringing up facts again!

  3. Anderson says:

    Anderson – there you go bringing up facts again!

    Sorry! Usually I’m able to avoid that.

    But, damn, every time I read about the Liberty again, I start seething against Israel and LBJ. What a low, low moment for America.

  4. DC Loser says:

    The Liberty incident makes me want to see Israel taken down a notch.

  5. Steven Plunk says:

    Let’s not forget we had a couple of wars with Great Britain. Why should we ally ourselves with those Limeys? Heck why ally ourselves with people from the south? The Civil War was our most costly war.

    The “Liberty” incident was many years ago and it would be reasonable to move on from it. To bring it into the discussions of today makes no sense to me.

    The investigations at the time determined it was a mistake and now is officially closed. If we want to throw out conspiracy theories I guess we can but it leads us nowhere in a rational discussion.

    I accept without reservation that the bombing of the UN post was a tragic error. It is the most simple and reasonable explanation. Without contrary evidence why would we assume anything else?

  6. McGehee says:

    it would be reasonable to move on from it.

    Steven Plunk – there you go bringing up reasonableness again!

  7. Anderson says:

    I accept without reservation that the bombing of the UN post was a tragic error. It is the most simple and reasonable explanation. Without contrary evidence why would we assume anything else?

    Righto, old chum. Contrary evidence:

    An Irish army officer in south Lebanon warned the Israeli military six times that their attacks in the area were putting the lives of U.N. observers at risk, Ireland’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. * * *

    On six separate occasions he was in contact with the Israelis to warn them that their bombardment was endangering the lives of U.N. staff in South Lebanon,” a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.

    “He warned: ‘You have to address this problem or lives may be lost’,” the spokesman said of comments by a senior Irish soldier working as a liaison officer between U.N. forces in South Lebanon and the Israelis.

    Contrary evidence:

    Jane Lute, the assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that over the six-hour period in which the warnings were being conveyed to the Israelis, the patrol base at Khiam in southern Lebanon continued to come under fire, subjected to a total of 21 strikes from the air, 12 of them artillery rounds.

    She described the site as â??well known and clearly markedâ?? and added that no Hezbollah firing was taking place in the area during the period.

    Ms. Lute said the United Nations was so alarmed by the incidents that she enlisted Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy secretary general, to join her in placing the calls.

    When the United Nations force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, reported losing contact with the outpost, it secured safe passage from Israel to send in Indian troops, who found the shelter collapsed and the remains of three of the four peacekeepers. The fourth is presumed dead, she said.

    â??Firing continued during the rescue operation despite repeated requests to the I.D.F. for an abatement,â?? she said, speaking of the Israeli Defense Forces.

    “Tragic error”? Yeah.

  8. DC Loser says:

    You mean tragic errors like this?

    http://billmon.org/archives/002568.html

    I’d say the pilot sure hit what he was aiming for.

  9. Anderson says:

    Iâ??d say the pilot sure hit what he was aiming for.

    If you *don’t* want your ambulance to be bombed, then *don’t* paint a target on its roof! Enough said!

    I mean, these pilots grew up playing video games! How much temptation do we think they can stand?

  10. Some of these commenters above are just plain nuts.

    As for Kofi Annan, if he cannot produce evidence to support this extremely strong accusation, then he has forfeited his right to be a diplomat at anything more important than a Ned Lamont strategy session.

    Hey Anderson, I really like the part that you bolded above:

    …no Hezbollah firing was taking place in the area during the period

    So now Israel can only attack Hezbollah while they are in the act of firing missiles? Oh, and isn’t this a tacit admission that the area was rife with Hizbollah terrorists peace loving kite makers before Israel responded? Do you have the slightest whiff of a freaking clue what the UNIFIL mandates are?

    Jeez.

  11. Anderson says:

    Interesting evidence that Canada’s executive is as bright a bulb as our own:

    Meantime, Canadian prime minister Harper said something interesting. “The prime minister also said he wants to know why the post was still manned even though it was in the middle of an obvious war zone.”

    Right! International observers should observe the conflict from the vantage of their hotel in Tel Aviv, on the TV in the bar!

    What a maroon, as Bugs Bunny used to say.

  12. Anderson, I’ll ask again, do you know what the UNIFIL mandates are? If you did, you probably wouldn’t have written the last comment. Bottom line, it is abundantly clear that you don’t know why the UN is in Lebanon or what there job was. Your ad hoc imaginings or rationalizations for why the UN are there don’t count.

  13. Anderson says:

    Charles, if you think you have something interesting to cite from said mandate(s), you could either share it with us …

    … or else continue to hold us all in suspense, perhaps while emitting periodical bouts of evil laughter and cackling, “You fools! Don’t you know what the UNFIL mandates are? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!”

    Security Council Resolution 1655 (1/31/06) includes a call to the parties “to abide scrupulously by their obligation to respect the safety of UNIFIL and other United Nations personnel, including by avoiding any course of action which endangers United Nations personnel.” You mean that mandate?

  14. Well, that’s part of it. Nice to know that Hizbollah, Lebanon, and the UN held up their respective parts of the agreement all these years. Oh that’s right, they didn’t, thereby making a sad mockery of UN Security Council Resolution 1655, requiring Israel to do what the UN couldn’t, or wouldn’t, by removing Hizbollah as an active, rocket launching, civilian murdering, terrorist threat from it’s border. But, by all means, keep quoting little snippets of text that you seem to believe bolster your argument.

  15. Anderson says:

    But, by all means, keep quoting little snippets of text that you seem to believe bolster your argument.

    Wha? First *you* bring up the mandates, then *I* bother to actually link to one, and now you lamely retort with that b.s.?

    If you’re trying to come across as stupid, you’re succeeding brilliantly.

  16. While Anderson has yet to respond to any of the substantive points raised, we have learned that I’m lame, stupid and subject to periodical (sic) bouts of evil laughter and cackling. Apparently this is what passes for a persuasive argument in his circles.

  17. Herb says:

    Keep going Anderson, you might just find a better source to Plagiarize than the one you referred to.

  18. Anderson says:

    Mr. Austin, you’ve yet to “raise a substantive point” that I can see. You went on & on about the UNFIL mandate without explaining what you meant. At most, I can glean that you complain that the UN somehow has failed to comply with its own mandate, but you don’t explain how this is the case (for ex, a particular portion of the mandate and a case of its being disregarded), or how it justifies Israel in killing UN observers at a known observation post.

    Doubtless one day you will explain yourself, and the scales will tumble from my eyes. Until then …

  19. I don’t think I have that much time. Sorry.

  20. LJD says:

    O.k., Ill bite. You could look at more than just one clip of 1559:

    Gravely concerned at the continued presence of armed militias in Lebanon,
    which prevent the Lebanese Government from exercising its full sovereignty over
    all Lebanese territory,

    Calls upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon;
    Calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-
    Lebanese militias;
    Calls upon all parties concerned to cooperate fully and urgently with the
    Security Council for the full implementation of this and all relevant resolutions
    concerning the restoration of the territorial integrity, full sovereignty, and political
    independence of Lebanon;
    Requests that the Secretary-General report to the Security Council within
    thirty days on the implementation by the parties of this resolution and decides to
    remain actively seized of the matter.

    You could also look at 1655:

    Condemns all acts of violence, including the latest serious incidents
    across the Blue Line initiated from the Lebanese side that have resulted in deaths
    and injuries on both sides, expresses great concern about the serious breaches and
    the sea, land and the continuing aforementioned air violations of the withdrawal
    line, and urges the parties to put an end to these violations, to refrain from any act of
    provocation that could further escalate the tension and to abide scrupulously by their
    obligation to respect the safety of UNIFIL and other United Nations personnel,
    including by avoiding any course of action which endangers United Nations
    personnel;
    Reiterates its call on the parties to continue to fulfil the commitments
    they have given to respect fully the entire withdrawal line identified by the United
    Nations, as set out in the Secretary-Generalâ??s report of 16 June 2000 (S/2000/590)
    and to exercise utmost restraint;
    Requests the Secretary-General to continue to work with the Lebanese
    Government to reinforce its authority in the South, and in particular to facilitate the
    early implementation of the measures contained in paragraph 8 above;
    S/RES/1655 (2006)
    Supports the continued efforts of UNIFIL to maintain the ceasefire along
    the withdrawal line consistent with its remaining task, while stressing the primary
    responsibility of the parties in this regard and encourages the Force to focus also on
    assisting the Lebanese Government to assert its authority in the South;

    In context, it is clear that the safety of the U.N. is also the responsibility of Hezbollah.

    I wouldn’t say any of this sounds like allowing Hezbollah to set up camp in and around the U.N. installation.

    Seriously Anderson, you of all people should understand that if the documents are not supported by all parties, then it’s just a piece of toilet paper.

  21. Anderson says:

    I donâ??t think I have that much time. Sorry.

    LOL!

    LJD, I will assume that Hezbollah routinely ignores UN mandates that it dislikes. But I don’t think that entitles Israel to disregard them. Last I checked, Israel was a member of the UN and Hezbollah was not.

    “But Anderson was speeding first!” will not get you out of a ticket.

    At any rate, the mandates are of dubious relevance to “when the UN calls you 10 times in one day to quit shelling their guys and you keep on shelling them, is that okay?” But then, I didn’t bring them up, the suddenly-pressed-for-time Mr. Austin did.

  22. LJD says:

    Would it have helped for the Israelis to call the U.N. ten times saying, ‘If you don’t stop assisting Hezbollah, we’re going to bomb you’?

  23. Heather says:

    There was a video all over the net showing UN ambulance rescuing Hezbollah soldiers from battle-field.