Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has learned -- and so too U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan -- that strong criticism of Israel's devastating military campaign in Lebanon is apparently the equivalent of being anti-Israeli. And almost every TV news report I've heard has made that clear.
The Israelis are outraged by Annan's remarks that yesterday's deadly attack on the longtime, clearly marked U.N. bunker in Southern Lebanon was "apparently deliberate." Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the U.N., called Annan's statement "premature, hasty, deplorable, and irresponsible."
Last night, Larry King asked Christiane Amanpour why Annan was "against Israel":
LARRY KING: ... Christiane, Kofi Annan is usually very diplomatic and careful. Were you surprised that he was so strikingly against Israel today?
I see Maliki's criticism of Israel as mostly what he knew he had to say to the Shiite majority (and Sunnis) in Iraq. It would have been suicidal to have saved his criticism for Hezbollah, a Shiite political and militia group.
Kofi Annan's criticism and suspicions, however, have strong bases since he knows, only too well, the recent history of other deaths and injuries from Israeli air strikes, as well as numerous, repetitive efforts by U.N. officials, and the general in charge, to let Israel's military know where the U.N. observers are located so that they wouldn't be bombed by mistake.
A civilian employee of the U.N. force, along with his wife, was killed by Israeli bombing on July 12. And, "[f]ive Unifil soldiers and one military observer had also been wounded," according to The Independent. "They included four Ghanaians injured by artillery fire on Monday and a peacekeeper shot through the back on July 23."
Yesterday, the U.N. observer base was attacked from 11:20 AM until 7:40 PM, when contact with the base was lost and presumably the four U.N. observers were killed.
"I spoke to Mr Olmert and he definitely believes it was a mistake and has expressed his deep sorrow, " Mr Annan told a press conference in Rome.
"But the shelling started in the morning and went on until after 7pm. You cannot imagine the anguish of the unarmed men and women peacekeepers who were there."
According to a detailed timeline of the incident provided by an unidentified UN officer and reported by CNN, the first bomb exploded around 200 metres from the post at 1.20pm (11.20am BST) yesterday.
Unifil observers then telephoned their designated contact with the Israeli military, who assured them the attacks would stop. In the following hours, nine more bombs fell close to the post, each one followed by a call to the Israeli military, the UN officer said.
The main Unifil base in the town of Naqoura lost contact with the post at 7.40pm, seemingly the time when the post received a direct hit. -- The Guardian, July 26, 2006
In the past two weeks, U.N. forces have endured "dozens" of attacks:
The 2,000-strong Unifil force, which sits on the Israel-Lebanon border, has suffered dozens of attacks and direct hits in two weeks of conflict. Israel is suspicious of the force and wants it beefed up with an international stabilisation force involving up to 20,000 troops. -- The Guardian, July 26, 2006
Today, Amy Goodman interviewed Timur Goksel, former spokesperson and senior advisor for UNIFIL, who said that the observers "had been working there for over 50-60 years."
TIMUR GOKSEL: It's a big loss. It's an unnecessary loss. These people had been working there for over 50-60 years in very [inaudible] positions. They are made up of armed officers. There are 42 nationalities there [inaudible]. And it's a very sad loss. It's a totally unnecessary loss, because of an [inaudible] action by the other side. That's what it is. It's heartbreaking, but it's not the first time, unfortunately.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what you mean, "this is not the first time"?
TIMUR GOKSEL: Well, they had UN soldiers and officers killed by [inaudible] before. One difference is that this time they attempt to apologize. In the past, they do not even apologize.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "they don't care"?
TIMUR GOKSEL: They don't care if they kill a UN man or anybody on the Lebanese side. For them, their own life is sacred, their own troops are sacred. They have a mission, and if the UN gets in the way of their efforts over there, if the UN gets hit, so be it. That's what I'm saying.
AMY GOODMAN: Timur Goksel, yesterday on CNN the Consul General of Israel, in talking about UNIFIL, said that they were sympathetic to Hezbollah. Can you respond to that?
TIMUR GOKSEL: That is the biggest [inaudible]. UNIFIL came here in 1978. We were, because at that time there was no Hezbollah here, accused of being sympathetic to Palestinians. A peacekeeping force does not come here with pre-set enemies. There is no enemy [inaudible] in a peacekeeping force. UNIFIL is a peacekeeping force. It's not a Israeli combat force or an anti-terror force, as they would like it to be. As long as we don't serve their direct interests, they are going to denigrate it as much as they can.
What does it mean, the Hezbollah [inaudible]? Hezbollah people are the people -- are Lebanese people. They are not from outer space. They live in those villages. And a peacekeeping force, first of all, primarily lives on its good will of the people, with the population of the area. And on this one, nobody can deny UNIFIL's success. So if that includes -- if I am [inaudible] village and at nighttime there's [inaudible], that's what? Am I a Hezbollah sympathizer? [inaudible] So, I mean, this is Israeli propaganda. ...
Here is Christiane Amanpour's response to Larry King's loaded question:
KING: Christiane Amanpour is in Jerusalem, Christiane, Kofi Annan is usually very diplomatic and careful. Were you surprised that he was so strikingly against Israel today?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well I mean, you know, you make that judgment about being against Israel. I'm not sure that's what his statement said. It asked for a full investigation and it did say that it was apparently deliberate targeting.
And then he went on to say in the statement that the observation post was clearly marked, that his top general there had been in touch with the Israeli authorities all throughout the day about this and asking them to protect it. And the UNIFIL statement that was put out about these casualties said that they had had 14 very close firings in just this afternoon alone.
In contrast, Wolf Blitzer's response to Larry King's question focused entirely on Israeli anger over Annan's statement, never referring to the four deaths yesterday:
KING: Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem, didn't it appear that Kofi Annan was making such a charge?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It certainly appeared that way to the Israelis. They were outraged that the top U.N. diplomat would effectively come up with a conclusion, even an apparent conclusion, even while calling for an investigation. In other words, the verdict comes in before the trial.
And we heard the Israeli ambassador to Washington, we heard the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations both deploring in very deliberate and very tough words what Kofi Annan says.
And I think there's going to be a very angry reaction here in Israel when people wake up. It's still the middle of the night here. But they're going to be shocked that Kofi Annan would accuse the Israelis of doing this apparently deliberately.
It's one thing if the Israelis did it they would say "You know what, there are innocents that sometimes die even with the best of intentions." But for Kofi Annan to do this, to lay this out, the Israelis are very angry. They're furious at the U.N. secretary- general -- Larry.
And this from the Anderson Cooper 360 show on CNN:
DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Good evening, Anderson.
COOPER: Kofi Annan says -- good evening.
Kofi Annan says that this was an apparently deliberate strike at a U.N. position. Was it?
GILLERMAN: First of all, I want to express our deep regret at this very tragic event, and extend out condolences to the families of the victims.
But, to use Kofi Annan's own words, I am shocked and deeply distressed by his deliberate targeting of Israel. I think that the statement made by the secretary-general was very unworthy of such a seasoned diplomat. I think it was premature, hasty, deplorable, and irresponsible.
And I certainly hope that, after the secretary-general has had a good night's sleep in Rome, he may wake up and realize that he made a mistake, and apologize for those very unfortunate words.
Amazing. Just amazing. Snark from the Israeli ambassador in the midst of such unnecessary and cruel deaths.
PHOTO CAPTION: UN personnel carry the body of one of the UN military observers who was killed by an Israeli bombardment of the southern Lebanese town of Khiyam. Photograph: Lotfallah Daher/AP
A variation of this has been posted at No Quarter.