UNIFIL/UNTSO Update 28/07/06
""These are unarmed people and this is for their protection," said Milos Struger, a spokesman for UNIFIL, the peacekeeping force whose 2,000 members have light weapons for self-defense.A lot of smoke-and-mirrors has been deployed by Right Blogistan - at least, the parts not glorying in the deaths of UN peacekeepers - claiming that Hezbollah were operating from the UNTSO position. In part, this is based on deliberate misinterpretations of an email sent a few days earlier by the Canadian UNTSO fatality which mentioned that the outer edge of the zone of Israeli bombardment had been falling near to the UNTSO position, which is indeed fair enough in a hot warzone. But what happened on the day the position was destroyed was that it was deliberately attacked, with four hits in what one pro-war Israeli blogger says the IDF claims was mistaken identity:
UNTSO has about 50 observers in four posts along the border, two of which have already been abandoned - the one that was destroyed at Khiam and a second near the village of Maroun al-Ras, which was abandoned after one of the observers was seriously wounded by Hezbollah gunfire on July 23, said Milos Struger, spokesman for the UNIFIL peacekeepers.
Staff were being removed from the remaining two posts to be placed at UNIFIL posts along the border, Struger said. He would not say whether the move had been completed."
"Kofi Annan has now exhibited his most blatant anti-Israel bias ever. Yesterday Israel accidentally shelled an IDF post in south Lebanon, killing four soldiers. Annan said it was deliberate, although he has since retracted this. The diplomatic response from Israel was one of horror. Said Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Gillerman, Annan is a seasoned diplomat, one who should not be making such inflammatory and regrettable statements. The IDF has apologized, saying the post was mistaken for an Hezbollah outpost."The Israeli Defence Forces themselves haven't claimed that they were firing at Hezbollah fighters "near" the UN position. The IDF line is that they 'mistook' the UN observer position for a Hezbollah one, which Tom Clonan noted yesterday is an insultingly bald lie, and is also a very real war crime. But how many of the pro-Israel 'instapundits' even in the Irish blogging world have picked up on any of these points?
Israel is of course extending the kind of co-operation in investigating the bombing of the UNTSO position that one would expect:
Israel rules out United Nations role in peacekeeping forceIt should be borne in mind that UNIFIL was also unable to forcibly eject the occupying Israeli Defence Forces down through the years, or to subdue their DFF goons. Why? Because it's a peacekeeping mission, and as such (in theory and in practice) reliant on the good faith of all parties pursuant to a diplomatic settlement. UNIFIL is armed only for self-defence, and only authorised to use force in self-defence.
Israel's ambassador to the UN ruled out Thursday major UN involvement in any potential international force in Lebanon, saying more professional and better-trained troops were needed for such a volatile situation.
Dan Gillerman also said Israel would not allow the United Nations to join in an investigation of an Israeli air strike that demolished a post belonging to the current UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. Four UN observers were killed in the Tuesday strike.
"Israel has never agreed to a joint investigation, and I don't think that if anything happened in this country, or in Britain or in Italy or in France, the government of that country would agree to a joint investigation," Gillerman said.
His refusal to conduct a joint investigation will be a slap to UN officials, who have specifically sought to partner with Israel to investigate the bombing.
Gillerman was highly critical of the current UN peacekeeping force, deployed in a buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon since 1978, saying its facilities had sometimes been used for cover by Hezbollah militants and that it had not done its job.
"It has never been able to prevent any shelling of Israel, any terrorist attack, any kidnappings," he said. "They either didn't see or didn't know or didn't want to see, but they have been hopeless."
Gillerman even mocked the name of the force - the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.
"Interim in UN jargon is 28 years," he said.
The flaws with the UN force make it imperative that any UN force come from somewhere else, though it could have a mandate from the United Nations, he said.
"So obviously it cannot be a United Nations force," Gillerman said. "It will have to be an international force, a professional one, with soldiers from countries who have the training and capabilities to be effective."
Israel, of course, really wants America or NATO in south Lebanon to fight their war for them. One good compromise might be for international diplomats to give them a quid pro quo - unilateral Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories - the Shebaa Farms which Hezbollah claim they fight to liberate, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip - and for a similar peacekeeping force to go in there, too. Fat chance of the Likudniks accepting that, though.
In other UNIFIL-related news from the UN:
"UNIFIL's mandate is due to expire at the end of this month and on 7 July Lebanon's Government asked that it be extended for a further six months. But, given the worsening situation, Mr. Annan recommends that the Security Council extend it only for one month to give time for all "possible options" for south Lebanon to be worked out."Now this is rather less dramatic than it sounds, as the UNIFIL mandate has been regularly renewed for one- to six-month periods since its establishment in March 1978. But it's extremely unlikely that the same status quo will be in place in south Lebanon by the close of this year. Watch this space.