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It is difficult at times, and perhaps today impossible, to fathom how UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan assesses events involving Israel. On Tuesday, four members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were killed when their position was hit by IDF fire.
Annan reacted by declaring that the incident was "an apparent deliberate targeting by the Israeli Defense Forces of a UN observer post."
Yesterday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert conveyed to Annan Israel's "deep regret" over the incident, as well his "reservations" over Annan's "inconceivable" decision to accuse Israel of deliberately targeting UN forces.
Reservations? Perhaps Olmert had to be polite, but outrage would be a more appropriate sentiment.
Just yesterday, Israel paid another terrible price in its soldiers' lives in the fight against Hizbullah. They died defending their country, but they also died, in effect, implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands the disarming of Hizbullah.
Israel has already apologized for, and pledged to investigate, the deaths of the UNIFIL soldiers. Where is Kofi Annan's apology for insulting Israel, and his investigation of how UNIFIL came to be so inseparable from Hizbullah that it has been almost impossible to target the later without inadvertently hitting the former? Where is his gratitude for Israel's implementation, with the blood of its children, of a UN resolution?
And why, pray tell, would Israel target UNIFIL? Is Annan suggesting some sort of Israeli anti-UN sadism, or that Israel would have some reason to target UNIFIL in its war with Hizbullah?
But the lack of clear thought inherent in Annan's allegation goes further. The IDF, perhaps more than any other military force, does its utmost to avoid hitting noncombatants. The most outstanding instance of this was Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, when the IDF used infantry to flush out terrorists rather than bomb them from the air and kill innocent civilians. Dozens of soldiers paid with their lives for upholding this standard.
In his own report on UNIFIL, delivered just last week to the UN Security Council, Annan noted that "on the morning of 15 July, IDF announced via loudspeakers to the residents of [the Lebanese villages of] Ayta ash Shab and Marwallin that they should vacate their villages," clearly to minimize noncombatant casualties. Far from targeting civilians, Annan is aware that the IDF routinely sacrifices the element of surprise to spare them.
The lamentable killing of the four UNIFIL personnel clearly requires investigation, something the IDF carries out in any case of a mistake made in the heat of battle. But an investigation of even greater importance to long-term regional stability would be of UNIFIL's failure to fulfill its mandate of restoring peace and security in southern Lebanon and assisting the Lebanese government in restoring its effective authority in the area.
With diplomacy focused on creating a new multinational force in the aftermath of the fighting in southern Lebanon, it is essential to understand what went wrong with the existing one.
Such an investigation must determine more than just how UNIFIL troops were located in such close proximity to Hizbullah terrorists that they ended up in the line of fire. More fundamentally, it would delve into how, in complete contravention of its objectives, UNIFIL stood by without a murmur as a terrorist organization amassed thousands upon thousands of rockets whose unprovoked use has killed and wounded dozens of Israelis and precipitated the current war.
The bitter irony is that Annan himself reported to the Security Council back in January 2001 that UNIFIL had completed implementation of the part of its mandate requiring it to help Lebanese authorities resume control of the area vacated by Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. If he was right, the IDF would not now be operating against Hizbullah, and absorbing mounting casualties. And four UNIFIL workers would not be dead today.
Since his initial outburst, Annan has accepted Israel's apology, although it is not entirely clear whether he now accepts Israel's insistence on the inadvertent nature of the incident. That's not enough.
It is Israel that is owed an apology for Annan accusation, which our UN ambassador called shocking, distressing, premature, hasty and erroneous. We are owed more than that: an independent, blue-ribbon investigation into how UNIFIL forces became human shields for the terrorist army they should have been fighting to dismantle.
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