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Posted on Aug 18, 2006 at 07:53 AM

COMMENTAn accident waiting to happenBy Ian Williams With the Israeli bombing of a United Nations camp and the killing of four UN peacekeepers, we really do seem to be in a "deja vu all over again" phase. Already UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is under attack for condemning the "apparently deliberate targeting by Israel Defense Forces [IDF] of a UN observer post". It is reminiscent of the trouble his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali got himself into last time the Israelis tried shock and awe on Lebanon in 1996, when he failed to suppress a report that said pretty much the same thing about the IDF shelling of the UN post in Qana, which killed some 106 Lebanese civilians. It is worth remembering that of all UN secretaries general, Annan has done most to end Israel's isolation in the organization and "); //--> maintained the closest relations with Israel's friends in the United States. In the end, however, he is also a head who sets great store by protecting UN staff, and so the palpable anger of his statement is entirely understandable. "This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long-established and clearly marked UN post at Khiyam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by [Israeli] Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire. Furthermore, General Alain Pellegrino, the UN force commander in south Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular UN position from attack." So to accept that it was yet another accident presupposes a level of incompetence or insubordination in the Israeli army that should see some serious courts-martial, but never does. So what could be the motive? It is clear that there are many in the IDF with a profound contempt for the UN and all it stands for, and who would not shed many tears at such an accident. It may also rankle that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has, in the dearth of Western reporters from much of south Lebanon, provided independent corroboration of many incidents of IDF attacks on civilians. One only has to think of the fate of the USS Liberty in 1967 [1] for being in a position to observe what the IDF was up to. And, most sinister of all, there are many Israelis - including the government only a few days ago - who do not want an international force between them and their targets in Lebanon, who would have no great scruples about bombing a UN compound "accidentally on purpose". This time, the "collateral damage" is not just four dead UN personnel. The bombing scotches any realistic chance of a reinforced UN or multinational peacekeeping force - which it is worth remembering that Israel itself opposed until a few days ago, and which the war party in Israel sees as a potential obstacle to their attempts to emulate Ariel Sharon's disastrous invasion in 1982. (See Israeli peace group's Gush Shalom's ad in Ha'aretz at the end of the article.) Already, while many countries have endorsed the general idea of putting foreign troops on the Lebanese side of the border, there has been a complete lack of specific volunteers - for the understandable reasons that the attack on Khiyam now so forcibly demonstrates. The Fijians and Ghanaians make lots of money out of providing peacekeepers for UNIFIL and seem to think weekly humiliation by the Israelis and Hezbollah is worth it. There are few serious military powers that would tolerate sending their troops for IDF target practice, let alone Hezbollah attacks. And who knows, if any were so bold as to put in contingents, they may well stand up to Israeli incursions as well. Some Israel supporters are already arguing that the bombing could not have been deliberate because it was a public relations disaster for Israel. Excuse me, but only an American or Israeli commentator could say that. Manifestly, for the rest of the world, the whole Israeli campaign is a PR disaster, with massive majorities even in Tony Blair's Britain regarding the Israeli attack as a massively disproportionate reaction, let alone how Israel's assault is turning Hezbollah into the toast of the Third World. There is some added piquancy that both the Lebanese and Iraqi prime ministers (until this week at least champions of the new democratic Middle East) are condemning Israel's assault. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's statement that it was "too early" for a ceasefire, when only 500 were dead and countless more dismembered, should go down with Madeleine Albright's since-regretted statement that the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children as a result of sanctions was "a price worth paying". Since Annan is already going at the end of the year, which puts him beyond reach of US Ambassador John Bolton's veto, we can but hope that he will not be browbeaten by Rice, Bolton or President George W Bush, but will use the sacrifice of the UN observers to shame the Security Council into demanding an immediate ceasefire. And who knows, while he is still angry, he may wish to remind them that Israel was defying UN Resolution 242 (Israel to remove itself from territories acquired in the 1967 war) for many decades before Resolution 1559 (free and fair presidential election in Lebanon without foreign interference and all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon), and that it has to be a crucial foundation for any peace settlement for the region. Back to 1982Then: The war was prepared well in advance.This time: The same. Then: We went to war only to protect "the peace of Galilee".This time: We go to war to protect Haifa and Afula, too. Then: We waited for a provocation (the attempt on the life of Israeli ambassador to Britain Shlomo Argov). This time:We waited for a provocation (the capture of two soldiers). Then: "We shall advance only 40 kilometers in order to eliminate the Katyushas." This time: "We shall advance only a few kilometers in order to eliminate the rockets." Then: Ariel Sharon acted behind the back of the cabinet. This time: Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and army chief of staff Dan Halutz act behind the back of the ministers. Then: We destroyed Lebanon. This time: We are destroying Lebanon. Then: Only the Palestinian Liberation Organization profited from the war. A few years later they returned to Palestine. This time: Only Hezbollah will profit from the war. Its prestige in the Arab world increases every day. Then: We were stuck in the quagmire for 18 years. For how long shall we be stuck this time? The question is posed by Gush Shalom of the Israeli Peace Block in a large advertisement published in Ha'aretz newspaper on Wednesday. Note1. During the Six Day War between Israel and the Arab states, the intelligence ship USS Liberty was attacked for 75 minutes in international waters by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats. Thirty-four men died and 174 were wounded.

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