Will murder of Irish UN soldier in Lebanon end in justice? - analysis

Lebanon enables groups like Hezbollah to operate with impunity. Recent events, including other assassinations, show that usually, these killings go unpunished.   

 A vehicle carrying the body of Irish soldier Sean Rooney who was killed on a UN peacekeeping Patrol, heads to Beirut airport to be repatriated, in Sidon December 18, 2022. (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
A vehicle carrying the body of Irish soldier Sean Rooney who was killed on a UN peacekeeping Patrol, heads to Beirut airport to be repatriated, in Sidon December 18, 2022.
(photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

Last week, a UN peacekeeper from Ireland who was serving with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was shot and killed. He was on patrol in a vehicle, and three other members of the forces were wounded, the UN said last Thursday.

Images from Lebanon showing a UN vehicle riddled with bullets after the incident last week present compelling evidence of a serious attack. The Irish military identified the peacekeeper who lost his life as Pvt. Seán Rooney of the 27th Infantry Battalion. He was from Newtwoncunningham in northwestern Ireland. One of the wounded soldiers was in serious condition, it said.

When the incident happened, the UN mission said it wished “a full and fast recovery for those injured,” adding that “at the moment, details are sparse and conflicting.” The UN is coordinating with the Lebanese authorities and armed forces to determine what happened.

The initial details and the way in which information was relayed to the media appeared to be an attempt not to assign blame. In fact, the UN and the various authorities seemed to prefer that as few details as possible were revealed.

This means that the perpetrators will likely get away, especially if they are linked to a Lebanese terrorist group. Lebanon has a long history of enabling lawlessness, such as turning a blind eye to illegal armed groups such as Hezbollah to stockpile massive arsenals and allowing them to assassinate and kill whoever they want.

For instance, Lebanon was involved in murdering former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri in a large bombing in 2005. It took until August 2020 for a UN-backed court to convict a member of the terrorist group, although the UN did not find the group itself was responsible.

 Lebanese army members secure the area in Al-Aqbiya in southern Lebanon December 15, 2022.  (credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS) Lebanese army members secure the area in Al-Aqbiya in southern Lebanon December 15, 2022. (credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

The murder of Hariri only took 15 years to get a tiny bit of a resolution. No one will actually spend time in prison for his murder. No one will face justice for the murder of publisher Lokman Slim or for the murder of author Samir Kassir or many others.

There are no real laws in Lebanon, especially not when it comes to Hezbollah and armed groups. That is also why chemicals exploded at Beirut Port in 2020 and killed 200 people. It’s not exactly a failed state like Somalia, and it’s not in the midst of a civil war like Yemen. It’s more like a state where an armed terrorist mafia, Hezbollah, took over the country, and now Lebanon is simply an appendage of Hezbollah. Because that is the case, people feel impunity to attack UN members.

The murder of the UN member happened in a village called Al-Aqbiya in southern Lebanon. There may have been two shooters, and the vehicle hit a pylon, AFP reported. Seven bullets penetrated the vehicle, and it appeared the driver was shot in the head, the report said.

Countries in the region are concerned about the incident. Jordan has condemned the killing. Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “The ministry stressed the need to ensure the security and safety of the missions participating in the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations in order to protect the role assigned to them by the Security Council in promoting peace and stability.”

Lebanese acting Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said it is important to stop further attacks and that “those who will be proven guilty will be punished.”

He has a lot to juggle, however. Lebanon lacks a new president, and Mikati’s own cabinet only met recently for the first time in six months. Lebanon is essentially lacking a government.

This is not a new phenomenon. Lebanon has basically lacked leadership for a decade. Lebanon also lacked a new president from 2014 to 2016, when Hezbollah hijacked the process and made sure its candidate, Michel Aoun, was eventually elected.

Lebanon’s complex sectarian political landscape means that the president is always a Christian, whereas the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim. But that means even though Hezbollah is Shi’ite, candidates who want its support from other sects must work with Hezbollah. Thus, a Christian president can still be pro-Hezbollah and vice versa.

Today, Lebanon once again has political chaos, which helps Hezbollah because it means it can siphon off cash from the system and run its own state within a state as it sees fit.

Online posts appear to show the UN vehicle was targeted and that bullet marks were aimed at windows to hit the occupants. There is a pattern of bullets in the driver’s side window, indicating that several shots were directed at the driver, and another group of shots hit the passenger window. They don’t look like random shots, but rather the work of well-placed professional killers aiming to murder the occupants, either with rifles from a distance or up close.

This means it wasn’t likely that the vehicle was “randomly” shot at or shot at by mistake. The white vehicle is clearly marked UN, and it would be impossible not to know the car was a UN vehicle. It was targeted.

Why would Hezbollah target the vehicle?

Reports say the vehicle left a highway and was outside the area that UNIFIL usually operates in. Was Hezbollah following the vehicle, and if it deviated from its path, was an order given to interdict it and then shoot up the vehicle, sending a message to the UN?

The story put out in Lebanon after the attack claimed that locals just happened to gun down the occupants of the vehicle. Do locals usually shoot at cars? Is the country so lawless that villages will shoot at any vehicle that enters? Or is the country so lawless that armed terrorist groups such as Hezbollah can operate in villages with impunity and carry out extrajudicial assassinations?

The UN has many means to investigate this killing. It also has a UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions. After the US killed Iranian IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani in 2020, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions released a report on the killing.

It remains to be seen if the international community and others will put as much work into determining who attacked and murdered a member of the UN as they did examining the killing of Soleimani. The UN has the resources.

Lebanon enables groups such as Hezbollah to operate with impunity. Recent events, including other assassinations, show that these killings usually go unpunished.