Friday, July 28, 2006

So, Who Really Started This War?

We've all heard the same line for weeks now: Hezbollah was responsible for this new war because they kidnapped two IDF soldiers in July and, as a result, many believe that Israel was correct to bombard Lebanon into oblivion in order to try to eliminate Hezbollah's presence in the country. Sometimes, though, situations are not quite as cut and dried as we've been led to believe they are.

In researching statements by Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie, who has now been held up by many who defend Israel's reaction to the kidnappings and question the UN's position about the recent death of its 4 observers in Lebanon, an e-mail written by one of those observers, Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener (who is actually missing and presumed dead) has come to light. It is being used as proof that Hezbollah used the bombed UNIFIL observation post as a Hezbollah shield.

Here is the text of that July 18, 2006 e-mail from Major Hess-von Kruedener. Note: I have edited out the 'Background' and 'Mission' sections because they are not relevant to my broader findings:

Information Requested

(1) Currently, there are several nationalities that are here on the patrol base with me. I am serving with an Australian, Chinese, Finnish, Austrian, and Irish Officers. They come from various different backgrounds, levels of experience and services (Army, Navy and Air Force) from within their militaries.

(2) I have been here for nine months of a one-year tour of duty. Since I have arrived here in Lebanon, this current incident is the fourth I have seen and by far the most spectacular and intensive.

The first was 21 Nov 05, when the Hezbollah tried to capture IDF soldiers from an IDF observation position overlooking the Wazzani river near the town of Ghajjar on the Blue Line. This action was unsuccessful and resulted in the deaths of the Hezbollah raiding force.

On 01 Feb 06, a young shepherd boy was Killed by an IDF patrol near an abandon goat farm called Bastarra. Hassan Nasrallah (note: Hezbollah's leader) vowed that there would be consequences to this action. Team Sierra was tasked on 2 Feb 06, to assist in the investigation of the incident, and we sent one team to do so while the other team conducted its normal mobile patrolling activities.

On 03 Feb 06, a limited engagement took place initiated by the Hezbollah on several of the IDF defensive positions located in occupied Lebanon.

Then on 28 May, the Islamic Jihad (PLO) fired rockets from South Lebanon, into Israel, which elicited an immediate aerial bombardment of positions near our patrol base and in the Bekka valley.
(3) Our Team's normal operational activities are to plan, and execute daily vehicle and foot patrols of the Blue Line area within our area of responsibility. Unfortunately, with the current artillery and aerial bombing campaign being carried out by the IDF/IAF, it is not safe or prudent for us to conduct normal patrol activities. Currently, we are observing and reporting on all activities in our area of responsibility, with specific attention to activities along the Blue Line, which is clearly visible from our hilltop position.

(4) Team Sierra is currently observing both IDF/IAF and Hezbollah military clashes from our vantage point which has a commanding view of the IDF positions on the Golan mountains to our east and the IDF positions along the Blue Line to our south, as well as, most of the Hezbollah static positions in and around our patrol Base. It appears that the lion's share of fighting between the IDF and Hezbollah has taken place in our area. On the night of 16 July, at 2125 hrs, a large firefight broke out between the Hezbollah and the IDF near a village called Majidyye and lasted for one hour and 40 minutes.

(5) Based on the intensity and volatility of this current situation and the unpredictability of both sides (Hezbollah and Israel), and given the operational tempo of the Hezbollah and the IDF, we are not safe to venture out to conduct our normal patrol activities. We have now switched to Observation Post Duties and are observing any and all violations as they occur.

This is all the information of a non-tactical nature that I can provide you. I cannot give you any info on Hezbollah position, proximity or the amount of or types of sorties the IAF is currently flying. Suffice to say that the activity levels and operational tempo of both parties is currently very high and continuous, with short breaks or pauses. Please understand the nature of my job here is to be impartial and to report violations from both sides without bias. As an Unarmed Military Observer, this is my raison d'etre.

What I can tell you is this: we have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both artillery and aerial bombing. The closest artillery has landed within 2 meters of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity.

I thank you for the opportunity to provide you with some information from the front lines here in south Lebanon.

Maj Hess-von Kruedener

Now, here are some points of note:

1) Hezbollah had warned Israel that it would retaliate for the killing of the shepherd boy in February, 2006.
2) The kidnapping of the two IDF soldiers can be seen as retribution for that boy's death.
3) Despite the fact that Israeli officials keep insisting that they pulled out of Lebanon six years ago, they obviously still had troops in 'occupied Lebanon'.
4) This e-mail was written on July 18, 2006. The UNIFIL post was bombed repeatedly by Israel on July 25, 2006 despite the fact that the UN observers asked the IDF ten times to stop. This e-mail is not proof that Hezbollah was active in the area of that post on that date, as many have falsely concluded.
5) Many have also grabbed onto this conclusion, 'This has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity' as proof that the IDF was justified in its continuous bombing on the UNIFIL post on July 25, 2006 but, once again, the Major wrote this e-mail on July 18 and it does not represent what the situation was on the date of the deaths.

Further, the fact that a Canadian general who has pushed this e-mail as justifying what happened seems to add to the weight of those whose opinions support the IDF bombing. So, let's take a look at the recent actions and words of General MacKenzie.

On July 26, 2006 the general was the keynote speaker at a pro-Israel rally in Toronto where he said:

"This is Israel versus terrorism because unfortunately the government of Lebanon is not in a position to control a significant element within their own country" says Mackenzie.

And, here's MacKenzie's clearly biased opinion on having peacekeepers in the region:

Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie, who spent time as a peacekeeper in the Gaza Strip and other parts of the Middle East, dismissed the idea of creating another peacekeeping force.

"It's a dumb idea," Mr. MacKenzie said. "There is no place in the region for another peacekeeping force."

A NATO-led force could be an option, Mr. MacKenzie said, adding Canada could contribute a 1,200-strong "battle group" if the government approves the extension of current units operating in Afghanistan by six months.

But Mr. MacKenzie said it would be almost impossible for the Security Council to approve a force robust enough to provide enforcement of any ceasefire.

"Any armed intervention would need more than what you need to do the job, not less like with other peacekeeping operations," Mr. MacKenzie said. "It's got to be heavy, it's got to be tough. We do not need more monitors."

Mr. MacKenzie praised the soldiers and military observers currently working in the region, but said the efforts have been "totally and absolutely ineffective."

MacKenzie's motives, therefore, for pushing the belief that Israel was justified in its bombing on the UNIFIL post that day ought to be seen via the bias he has obviously expressed.

There is much more to what happened than can be quickly decided by snap judgements made against the UN based on what Israel, Maj Hess-von Kruedener or General Lewis MacKenzie have said. In the meantime, the world will have to wait for a proper investigation to be undertaken that will, hopefully, include people from outside of the Israeli government and military to ensure that the full story will finally come to light.

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