The words of a Canadian United Nations observer written just days before he was killed in an Israeli bombing of a UN post in Lebanon are evidence Hezbollah was using the post as a “shield” to fire rockets into Israel, says a former UN commander in Bosnia.
Those words, written in an e-mail dated just nine days ago, offer a possible explanation as to why the post — which according to UN officials was clearly marked and known to Israeli forces — was hit by Israel on Tuesday night, said retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie yesterday.
The strike hit the UN observation post in the southern Lebanese village of El Khiam, killing Canadian Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener and three others serving as unarmed UN military observers in the area.
Just last week, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener wrote an e-mail about his experiences after nine months in the area, words Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie said are an obvious allusion to Hezbollah tactics.
“What I can tell you is this,” he wrote in an e-mail to CTV dated July 18. “We have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both (Israeli) artillery and aerial bombing.
“The closest artillery has landed within 2 meters (sic) of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters (sic) from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity.”
Those words, particularly the last sentence, are not-so-veiled language indicating Israeli strikes were aimed at Hezbollah targets near the post, said Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie.
“What that means is, in plain English, ‘We’ve got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions, taking our positions here and then using us for shields and then engaging the (Israeli Defence Forces),” he said.
That would mean Hezbollah was purposely setting up near the UN post, he added. It’s a tactic Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie, who was the first UN commander in Sarajevo during the Bosnia civil war, said he’s seen in past international missions: Aside from UN posts, fighters would set up near hospitals, mosques and orphanages.
A Canadian Forces infantry officer with the Edmonton-based Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and the only Canadian serving as a UN military observer in Lebanon, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener was no stranger to fighting nearby.
The UN post, he wrote in the e-mail, afforded a view 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,” he wrote, noting later it was too dangerous to venture out on patrols.
The e-mail appears to contradict the UN’s claim there had been no Hezbollah activity in the vicinity of the strike.
The question of Hezbollah’s infiltration of the area is significant because UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking Tuesday just hours after the bombing, accused the Israelis of the “apparently deliberate targeting” of the base near Khiam in southern Lebanon.
A senior UN official, asked about the information contained in Maj. Hess-von Kruedener’s e-mail concerning Hezbollah presence in the vicinity of the Khiam base, denied the world body had been caught in a contradiction.
“At the time, there had been no Hezbollah activity reported in the area,” he said. “So it was quite clear they were not going after other targets; that, for whatever reason, our position was being fired upon.
“Whether or not they thought they were going after something else, we don’t know. The fact was, we told them where we were. They knew where we were. The position was clearly marked, and they pounded the hell out of us.”
Even if Hezbollah was not firing rockets at the time of the bombing, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener’s e-mail indicates they were using a terrorist tactic of purposely drawing out enemy forces near a neutral site, said retired Capt. Peter Forsberg, who did two UN tours between 1993 and 1995 during the Bosnian war.
The UN’s limited mandate, meaning that its observers are unarmed and have few options, put the observers in a poor position, he said.
If indeed Israel was attempting to hit Hezbollah fighters in the area, it hasn’t yet used the excuse to explain its actions because it wouldn’t make it any less guilty in the world’s eyes, Capt. Forsberg said.