Wednesday, July 26, 2006


The pattern of the fire made it clear that it came from the Israelis, he said, and only Israel possesses weapons heavy enough to penetrate the fortified bunker protecting the four observers.

The only thing in doubt was how or why an Israeli aircraft came to bomb a clearly marked UN position that should have been exempt from attack.

"This position has been there for twenty years. Israel knows these positions and they have had two weeks to zero in on this area and register targets and where you don't want to hit. That's standard behaviour," the UN source said.

"They (the bunkers) are big white things — you can see them for miles and they are lit up at night. Even if the Israelis just arrived cold from the moon two weeks ago, they have been firing there in that area regularly for two weeks. If you keep firing all afternoon into a position like that, then ultimately something will go wrong."

Plus, Olmert's "deep regret" over crime.

Oh,... okay.

The UN secretary general Kofi Annan says an Israeli attack on a UN observation post was "apparently deliberate". Four unarmed military observers were killed in the air strike in southern Lebanon. [The Independent]
Robert Fisk: Israeli missiles had clearly pierced the very centre of the red cross on the roof of each ambulance.


MT said...

The allegation of bulls-eying the red crosses seems to damn the Israelis but isn't it more likely to damns them and the UN alike? Or would it be no crime if they were using their people and infrastructure to shield antagonists in a military conflict? Israelis have a reputation already with ambulances and probably with UN vehicles as well, both of which seem truly to have been used to transport weapons and anti-Israeli militants. If we want a world without war crimes, we ought not to be incentivizing it. Or even accidentally incentivizing it through administrative negligence. I doubt the UN facility was providing overtly and publicly aid of a kind and an amount such as would make it strategically tempting as a target (e.g. how many fighters were they returning to action or enabling to live to fight another day? how much was their aid doing to dishearten the civilian populace who supported them and to discourage them from evacuating to leave the fighters exposed? to what extent was the facility an important UN foothold, without which real UN interference couldn't arrive nearly so soon?). I find it more likely that another kind of aid secretly was happening, and that the UN was willfully or negligently turning a blind eye. I doubt the IDF doing this simply to discourage NGOs and other aid organisations. Was it to dampen the will abroad to intervene militarily? I find it hard to see how it could be effective in that regard...unless the UN and world leaders are intentionally leaving us profoundly ignorant and/or mistaken about what's motivating all this murder and mayhem. In that case a lot of nationalities are damned. I guess it might have just been an unauthorized vigilante bombing run and Israel doesn't want the world or its forces to know. Such a secret would leak fast, I think. No, if we ever learn what happened, I don't think there's going to be a lot of innocence to spread around.

MT said...

"both of which seem truly to have been used to transport weapons and anti-Israeli militants."

i.e. "have been used" on at least one occasion--and not necessarily an occasion coinciding with Israeli aggression towards them. This is not to say whether a policy of aggression toward organizations and activities that are officially off-limits is justified, only that cost and means aside, an advocate or administrator of such a policy reasonably might expect legitimate ends would be one consequence of carrying it out.

helmut said...

Maybe. I'm not sure. I'm really disinclined to see the UN as the culprit here. Israel has often made no bones about aggression that should otherwise be viewed as criminal if it wasn't Israel. on the other hand, the UN may be smarmy at times, but it makes no sense at all to target the UN for whatever reason.

I know the emergency vehicle trick. The US claimed the same in Fallujah, while Iraqi doctors protested. You take that gamble though (between getting an important "target" and killing civilians), and you ought to have to pay the price. I think this is beyond the point of whether or not UN folks protect militants. The "target" would have to be very important and it strains my credulity to think that the UN would be transporting high-profile figures.

Even if there is some transport of important figures, I don't buy the incentivization claim. That kind of claim bugs me whatever the context. It tries to say that a massive power is justified in assaulting a much more limited power. "They made me do it." The US loves this one since it's in a position in which no one else can claim any superiority.

In the end, however, the politics of bombing Red Cross vehicles and UN posts, combined with Olmert's apologies says to me that Israel is rapidly losing the moral high ground, regardless of what else we don't know about the full story. There's a certain amount of hubris here that the US also has.

This said, I don't doubt that there's more to everything here than meets the eye.

MT said...

It tries to say that a massive power is justified in assaulting a much more limited power.

It's not size, it's desperation. It was just us wealthy industrial societies waging WWII in Europe and somehow whole cities lay in ruins by the end. Massive powers become desperate too, and their leadership doesn't always let them surrender. Poor powers are desperate and unmassive from the outset, no matter how large their infantry is. Gandhi's was massive, but they had no hope of defeating the British by conventionally warfare. So thousands marched off to certain slaughter in what truly deserves to be called a martyrdom operation. Who gets the incentivization excuse for the slaughter? Gandhi does. Basically, if a cause and a people aren't desperate, they're "massively powerful" by definition if your rule is really a rule, and so they get excused for attrocities they engineer.

We don't need the word "incentivize." But it's not completely nonsensical to say the British occupied India in a way that "incentivized" Gandhi's behavior. What options did he have? The British should have rested their authority on a vote. Then the independence movement could have competed with them on a level field by common rules and nobody would get the bayonet. Instead the British government said "i'm in charge, bite me." Unsporting, but not a war crime.

War crimes are attrocities but individuals and organizations will rely on principles of civility to pursue unadmirable aims in a way that is hard not to label "aggressive." Ever read any of the "Lucia" series of books? Or see "Mean Girls"? Is playing by the rules an absolute loophole? We don't act that way. We talk about the "moral highground" and "moral lowground" when an egregious gamer gets illegally smacked. It's fair to say one side is wronger or that both sides are wrong, but it doesn't feel right to place all blame on the rule breaker. These are our rules and we grant exceptions.

helmut said...

All true. But we do create sets of rules - such as Just War Theory - for very good reasons. Indeed, reasons of prospective self-defense. When they're broken time and again, they lose their force, thus opening the path towards actions we might otherwise have viewed as criminal. You can't continue to break those rules and then cry "terrorism" since the rules that would deem terrorism outside of moral bounds no longer exist.