Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Four U.N. observers killed in Israeli airstrike

The Washington Post, along with other major news outlets, is reporting that four U.N. observers have been killed in an Israeli airstrike:

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. Secretary General Kofi Annan, knee jerking recklessly, said he was "shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting" of the "clearly marked U.N. post at Khiyam". Meaning: Israel intentionally hit the U.N. post and, ipso facto, killed four U.N. observers. Annan called on Israel to "to conduct a full investigation into this very disturbing incident and demand that any further attack on U.N. positions and personnel must stop".

But did Israel intentionally target the U.N. post at Khiyam? CNN, which is reporting that two U.N. of the observers were killed while two are still missing, quotes Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman: "I am surprised at these premature and erroneous assertions made by the secretary-general, who while demanding an investigation, has already issued its conclusions."

He's right. Annan is surely upset that the U.N. observers were killed, but does it make any sense that Israel would do such a thing? Hardly. Annan's knee jerking is irresponsible and counter-productive.


I should note that neither the Post nor the BBC bothers to present the Israeli side of the story -- the BBC not at all, the Post only with this: "Israeli government officials, expressing regret over the deaths, said that the U.N. personnel were not targeted and that there would be an investigation."

One of the observers was Canadian. The Globe and Mail has the story (from the AP), but its coverage also offers little more than an uncritical regurgitation of Annan's comments and a few details that amount to a condemnation of Israel well before all the facts are known.

The airstrike is currently the leading story at Haaretz, which provides much better coverage than these four outlets.

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  • I don't want to believe that the attack is deliberate. But you have to admit this incident looks terrible for the Israelis, coming as it does hot off the heels of the photograhs of the bombed-out red-cross ambulances.

    At the very least, it shows that, far from taking pains to strike precisely, the IDF is so cavalier that they don't even take enough care to avoid U.N. personnel. I think that, in and of itself is devastating. Even more damning, even if the attack was a tragic accident, is the fact that Israel hampered the rescue effect with more bombings after the initial attack.

    At this point, I wouldn't assume that Annan is wrong. I hope he is, but I wouldn't take the Israeli ambassador's word for it. There is a precedent of sorts for this kind of action from Israel -- the attack on U.S.S. Liberty.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:59 AM  

  • How could anyone possibly think that the Israelis deliberately targeted UN observers. They're merely fighting terrorists. The civilians killed are just unlucky...or terror sympathizers. I did see a picture of a Red Cross ambulance which had also been accidently bombed. Lotta accidents. Sure, civilians are killed, but NEVER on purpose.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:48 AM  

  • This is from CNN:
    BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- The U.N. observers killed when an Israeli bomb made a direct hit on their bunker in southern Lebanon Tuesday called an Israeli military liaison about 10 times in the six hours before they died to warn that the aerial attacks were getting close to their position, according to a U.N. officer.

    After each call, the Israeli officer promised to have the bombing stopped, an officer at the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) base in Noqoura said.

    Finally, an Israeli bomb exploded directly on the U.N. post near Khiyam, killing four U.N. observers from Austria, Finland, Canada and China, the U.N. officer said.

    Sure, it can all still be a horrible mistake (although by this time I'd say it's gross negligence on the part of the Israelis at the very least also.) But calling Kofi Annan at "reckless" and "irresponsible" at this point is just grotesque. I invite you to amend your post to take this latest information into account.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:15 AM  

  • I still think it was reckless and irresponsible of Annan to come out and claim that the bombing was intentional before the facts were known. I understand that he must have been both saddened and angered by the deaths of the four U.N. observers -- he is ultimately responsible for them, after all -- and, on the whole, I don't dislike Annan the way some of his critics do. But he should at least have waited to hear Israel's side of the story. Then he should have called for an investigation without blaming Israel. Yes, by all means, if Israel did this intentionally, then blame Israel. But shouldn't we know the facts before we assign guilt?

    Without knowing the facts myself, I would say that this seems like "a horrible mistake". And it could very well be that those responsible on the Israeli side acted irresponsibly. The fog of war may have been a factor, but, obviously, if there was negligence of the kind alleged by UNIFIL, those responsible must be held accountable.

    My point, however, remains the same: I doubt that Israel did this intentionally. That doesn't mean that it wasn't grossly negligent, but why would Israel intentionally target the U.N.? Why would it intentionally risk its reputation and sense of moral rectitude? Why would it risk turning the international community against it, even more against it than some of it is already? The Israelis aren't stupid.

    Regardless, I'm not attempting to apologize for Israel in this case, just to criticize a general rush to judgement that finds Israel guilty of murdering the four U.N. observers. Once the facts are known, and if those facts show that Israel was in fact guilty of such a gross act, I won't hesitate to state publicly my abhorrence. Until then, I'll withhold judgement.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 10:04 AM  

  • Indeed, I can think of no good reason for Israel to target the U.N., just as I thought there was no good reason for America to target the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia at the time. Sometimes, the reasons for these things do not become clear until way after the event.

    The facts as they are currently known is this: Israel hit a U.N. building they were repeatedly told not to hit. If it's not deliberate, then it shows extreme and egregious carelessness and callousness. I don't think you can blame Annan for "over-reacting" in this instance -- he doesn't want any more of his guys to turn up dead.

    Israel have it in its power to ameliorate this situation: Apologize profusely stop hitting any more bluehelmets.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:05 AM  

  • Food for thought. For every 4 Israeli deaths there is one canadian death and canada isn't even in the war.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:04 PM  

  • I agree, Battlepanda. Israel should apologize -- which it as. And it should use the utmost caution to prevent a repeat of this terrible mistake.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 2:51 PM  

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