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(photo credit: AP)
A series of "severe professional errors" by the IDF Operations Directorate, combined with the deployment of military forces unprepared for their missions, led to the accidental IAF bombing of a United Nations outpost in southern Lebanon that killed four observers during the summer's war, according to an internal IDF document on the incident obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post.
On July 25, a Precision Guided Missile was fired by an IAF fighter jet at the UN military observer position in the village of El-Khiam in the eastern sector of southern Lebanon. As a result, four UN personnel - from China, Finland, Canada and Austria - were killed.
Immediately following the bombing, UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan said he was "shocked" at the "apparently deliberate targeting" of the post.
But according to the document, prepared by the IDF's External Relations Brigade and presented to military attaches and ambassadors from the countries of the victims, the bombing of the El-Khiam UN post was a mistake, and like many other mistakes and failures of the war, was due to insufficient planning and neglectful conduct by IDF Operations.
Opening with an explanation for Israel's decision to go to war against Hizbullah in Lebanon, the document goes on to describe in detail the chain of events that led to the bombing of the UN post.
It states that a military force unfamiliar with El-Khiam had been assigned to the sector. "Since the operational headquarters responsible for the El-Khiam sector was charged with the sector on short notice, the necessary preparations for the operation in El-Khiamâ€¦were performed in an abbreviated process," the document reads.
As a result of that "abbreviated process" of preparation in the Northern Command, the manual aids which list potential targets erroneously presented the UN outpost as an enemy Hizbullah position, the document states.
The aids were reviewed by Division 162, which fought in the eastern sector of southern Lebanon, and the unidentified UN post was deemed a viable target since it was rendered strategically useful to Hizbullah forces and necessary for destruction to allow the IDF to move safely inside the village.
The document clears the IAF of any responsibility for the incident, claiming that "aerial forces attacking targets in El-Khiam knew only the coordinates of the targets and that they had been identified as legitimate targets by the planning authorities in the authorized operational HQ in accordance with IDF targeting policy."
While taking responsibility for the bombing and expressing its apology, the IDF - in the report - does not refer to UN claims that observers stationed at the El-Khiam post called IDF liaison officers on 10 different occasions after the outpost was shelled 14 times.
Notwithstanding the report and the findings which were presented to the UN, Annan refused to retract his accusation that the attack had been "apparently deliberate," and the UN Spokesperson's Office released a statement merely noting that Israel had accepted responsibility for the incident.
"The [UN-appointed] Board [of Inquiry] did not have access to operational or tactical level IDF commanders involved in the incident, and was therefore unable to determine why the attacks on the UN position were not halted despite repeated demarches to the Israeli authorities from UN personnel, both in the field and at Headquarters," the UN statement read.