Intelligence: The UN Takes Sides in Lebanon

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July 28, 2006: The UNIFIL Observer outpost that was "accidentally" targeted by Israeli firepower on July 25th, leaving four UN troops dead, was probably a victim of its own chatter. The unarmed observers, with a clear view of the fighting between Hizbollah and the Israelis, were apparently reporting whatever they saw, with other UNIFIL locations, over unencrypted ("in the clear") radio frequencies. This chatter could be picked up by Hizbollah. Since the Israelis have control of the air, and use aircraft and UAVs to gain an information advantage over Hizbollah, this UNIFIL chatter was giving the Hizbollah fighters information they would not otherwise have. That was endangering Israeli soldiers. Then again, the UNIFIL post was right in the middle of a battlefield. There was a furious firefight going on around the UNIFIL position, and the Hizbollah gunmen were using the UNIFIL position for cover from Israeli fire (an old Hizbollah tactic.) The Israeli damage to the UN bunker may well have been accidental.
Then again, Israeli troops have complained to UNIFIL about this sort of loose talk, and inadvertent shelter for enemy troops, before, but such complaints have been brushed aside. The Israelis have caught some UNIFIL actually working for Hizbollah, and many more of the UN troops developed very friendly relations with Hizbollah. There was always a practical reason for this. When UN troops give Hizbollah a hard time, Hizbollah is not bashful about threatening the UN troops with violence. But the UNIFIL/Hizbollah cooperation goes beyond idle chatter. At about the same time the UNIFIL troops were killed, other UNIFIL troops were repairing roads in the area that had been bombed by the Israelis. UNIFIL engineers were making the repairs so UNIFIL vehicles could use the roads again, but UNIFIL was not going to do anything to keep Hizbollah off the newly repaired roads.
The UN is insistent that the Israeli bombing was deliberate. If the UN military officials put themselves in the situation the Israelis were facing, they would have probably given the same orders. That is, if the UN officers cared about their troops. UNIFIL has shown a keen sense of self-preservation during past encounters with Hizbollah. Now the UN is discovering that the Israelis will play for keeps as well. Despite what Israeli and UN diplomats (and their spin doctors) do over the next few weeks, UNIFIL has apparently received the message.

 


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