Published on Friday, December 15, 2000 in the Independent / UK
General Tries Some Old Guerrilla Tactics To Make United Nations Toe Israeli Line
by Robert Fisk in Tyre, southern Lebanon
Requesting anonymity, Major-General Giora Eland called local and foreign correspondents in Israel to a confidential meeting to "reveal" that United Nations peace-keepers in Lebanon may have "unwittingly" assisted Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas in their border capture of three Israeli soldiers on 7 October. The guerrillas, MajorGeneral Eland announced, "probably made use of UN equipment, clothes, vehicles, radios, weapons, flags".
All of this puzzled officers of the United Nations Interim force in Lebanon (Unifil) who had themselves revealed only a few days after the soldiers' capture that the Hizbollah had used equipment resembling UN clothing and material. This included two false UN number plates, a fake UN flag, bits of uniforms, shoulder flashes and blue berets. UN uniforms are for sale in stores all over southern Lebanon. More than six weeks ago, The Independent carried a report containing these details.
So why was Major-General Eland under cover of anonymity recycling the whole story as if it was new? The facts were first made public by the UN and the Israelis originally had no information themselves they couldn't have any, because they have no troops north of the UN's "blue line" at Shebaa where the Hizballah's vehicles and clothing were found.
The UN brain a collective object that students may one day examine with humour went to work. Was it only coincidence that at the very moment Major-General Eland was "revealing" his old story to the press, Israel was refusing to contemplate a UN protection force for the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip?
Could it be that by smearing the UN for assisting "terrorists", the Israelis hoped to persuade the world that UN peace-keepers could not be trusted to operate in the occupied territories in the new and ever more violent intifada, as the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, had just demanded.
Security sources in southern Lebanon have reached just such a conclusion only to be astonished when peace-keepers on the other side of the Golan Heights were invited by Israel to patrol on the Israeli sideof the "blue line" at the verylocation where the three Israeli soldiers were originally captured.
The peace-keepers are part of the international observer force put in place between Syria and Israel after the 1973 Middle East war.
Please visit the area of Shebaa farms, the Israelis told them, fully aware, of course, that this is the one area on the frontier where Israeli troops are still attacked by the Hizballah on the grounds that the land originally belonged to Lebanon.
And who runs the peacekeeping force on Golan? Why, the UN, of course, the very same outfit that operates Unifil.
There's no problem, it seems, in deploying the UN if it helps to protect Israeli soldiers. But there's a lot wrong with the UN when it might be sent to protect Palestinians. It's an interesting lesson that the UN is now quietly coming to understand.
But Israel is unlikely to get its UN protectors. UNDOF the international army on Golan is headquartered in Damascus and the Syrians are more than happy that Israeli soldiers should go on bleeding at Shebaa farms; and there'll be no permission from President Bachar al-Assad for the blue berets to save Israeli lives on the Lebanese border as long as Golan remains occupied and Palestinian lives are being lost in the new Intifada.
So the UN will go on watching and waiting and being abused. It's the same old story.
© 2000 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.