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Israel and the United Nations:
The Har Dov Kidnapping

Hizbullah Kidnaps Israeli Soldiers

On October 7, 2000, in a clear violation of international law, Hizbullah terrorists crossed the Lebanese border into Israel, ambushed three Israeli soldiers on Mount Dov, and took them back to Lebanon.


Adi Avitan
Avitan was the third of four brothers. He served as a combat soldier in an engineering battalion. Adi completed an accounting course at the Amal School and was finishing his second tour on the Lebanon border.

Binyamin Avraham

Avraham was the youngest of three children (two older sisters). He was named after his uncle who fell in the Yom Kippur War. A combat soldier in an engineering battalion, Benny would always boost the morale of his fellow soldiers.

 


Omar Souad
Souad completed regular military service, and, after some time playing in his father's musical group, enlisted as a career soldier in an engineering battalion. Omar's wife Nofa, children Qasem (5) and Maatuk (3) and eleven brothers and sisters await his return.

U.N. Denies Possession of a Videotape

The Tape

Hours after the abduction, two abandoned vehicles were found by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). A white Nissan Pathfinder, with fake U.N. markings, had hit an embarkment. A black Range Rover, with its motor still running, had lost a tire rim.

It was believed that the cars were used in the abduction of the soldiers. They were full of blood and items that connected them to the incident. The Israeli soldiers may have been lured to the border fence by the bogus U.N. markings of the white car.

Indian UNIFIL troops secured the site overnight. On the morning of October 8, an Indian UNIFIL worker videotaped the vehicles while his co-workers removed contents and tried to tow one of the cars away. The end of the film shows armed Lebanese (allegedly Hizbullah) fighters intercepting the vehicles. The UN workers turned the cars over to the armed men because the cars were not U.N. property and they wanted to avoid a confrontation.

Thus, 18 hours after the kidnapping took place, United Nations workers possessed a videotape with information related to the kidnapping. Assuming that some of the soldiers may have died from wounds incurred during the ambush, knowledge of this videotape 18 hours after the incident might have been helpful to Israel in recovering the soldiers.

The Denial

For almost nine months, high ranking U.N. officials, including U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Larsen and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, denied possessing any videotape related to the kidnapping.

The Confession

On July 6, 2001, the U.N. finally admitted that they possessed the tape as of 18 hours after the incident occurred.

The Intention

Some believe the denial was intentional. They believe that UNIFIL workers in the area had prior knowledge of the kidnapping plot, but did nothing to prevent it. Hizbullah crossed through a U.N. patrolled area to get to the Israeli soldiers.

Others believe the U.N. denial was due to misjudgement and miscommunication. They claim that Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N.dersecretary General for Peacekeeping Operations responsible for UNIFIL, never informed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that the videotape existed.

The Internal Investigation

In early July, Annan ordered an internal U.N. investigation into the handling of the videotape. U.N. undersecretary-General Joseph Connor led an eight-person investigation.

According to Connor's 18-page report, the U.N. possessed two more videotapes related to the kidnapping as well as more than 50 items (seven with bloodstains) that were found in the Hizbullah's getaway cars. The report also included a senior UNIFIL officer's assessment that the kidnapped soldiers died from their wounds.

Connor concluded that the U.N. was guilty of lapses in judgment and failures in communication, but there was no indication of collusion with Hizbullah or of deliberate attempts to mislead the Israeli government.

Annan apologized to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and the U.N. publicly acknowledged that "serious errors in judgment were made, in particular, by those who failed to convey information to the Israelis, which would have been helpful in an assessment of the condition of the three abducted soldiers." (U.N. Wire)

U.N. Refuses to Give the Videotape to the Israeli Government

Immediately after the U.N. admitted to possessing the tape, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer demanded that the videotape be handed over to Israel and condemned the U.N. for withholding evidence that may have helped lead to the soldiers' safe return to their families.

The U.N. refused to turn over the tape, citing a desire to remain neutral in the region.

Israel argued that the tape should be given to Israel because:

  • Israel was the victim of the kidnapping, which was an act of aggression and an international crime.
  • Israel is a U.N. member State, and the kidnapping was orchestrated by a terrorist group.
  • In their role as peacekeepers, it was the duty of UNIFIL to prevent the kidnapping in the first place.

On July 30, 2001 the U.S. Congress voted (411-4) for a resolution calling on the U.N. to release the tape.

U.N. Edits Videotapes and Establishes Viewing Conditions

The U.N. agreed to allow Israel to view the videotapes under certain conditions:

  • The tapes would be edited in order to obscure the faces of the kidnappers.
  • The first viewing of the tapes, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, would be for an Israeli team, which included Israeli military officers and Israeli ambassador to the U.N. David Lancry
  • A second viewing session, in Vienna, would be for the families of the three kidnapped soldiers
  • Only some of the 51 items taken from the cars used to kidnap the soldiers will be given to the Israelis.

Israel initially rejected these terms and demanded to receive an uncensored and unaltered version of the videotapes. However the U.N. insisted these conditions were in the interests of U.N. neutrality. The U.N. did not want to be accused by one party in the conflict of providing intelligence to another party. In the end, the Israelis accepted the U.N.'s editing and viewing conditions of the tapes.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that the UN wanted to emphasize the humanitarian aspects that could help Israel in the search for the captured soldiers without providing what appeared to be intelligence on the kidnappers.

Conclusion

The Israeli army, following an Israeli investigation, pronounced the soldiers dead on November 1, 2001. The soldiers remains were returned to their families in Israel on January 29, 2004 in a prisoner exchange.

Former U.N. ambassador Dore Gold sums up Israel's view of the events: "The U.N. always has been one-sided, and it is an illusion to think that it could play an effective role here."

While the U.N. admits to misjudgment and miscommunication in their original denial of possessing the videotape, the U.N. defends their other actions as due to their need to remain neutral in the region.

What do you think? Was the United Nations a neutral force in the Hizbullah's abduction of the Israeli soldiers?

For more on this topic:
Investigation into the UN Handling of Video Launched by Worthy News
IsraelInsider: Kidnapping, lies and videotape: Is the UN an accessory? by Ellis Shuman
The Capture of the MIAs by American Zionist Movement
The United Nations Web Site
UN Impeded Investigation of Hezbollah Kidnapping of Israeli Soldiers by Leron Thumim


~ Lisa Katz

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