Saturday, 16 July 2016

Lebanon, UNIFIL Deaths, and Ireland’s Diplomatic Machinations

Between 1978 and 2001, Ireland contributed significant personnel to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which was mandated to assist an orderly withdrawal of Israeli forces, and keep the peace in the border area of Southern Lebanon neighbouring Israel, after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) repeatedly attacked the Jewish State. Irish troops returned in 2011, to assist with a modified UNIFIL mandate, in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon War.

Lebanon’s tragedy

The aftermath of the Damour Massacre,  Lebanon, 1976.

During the 1960s, the PLO used Jordan as a base to attack Israel, whilst attempting to terrorise and destabilise the Arab nation toward the goal of regime change. King Hussein expelled the PLO in 1971. The terrorist group would take up residence in Lebanon, to disastrous effect. The PLO was pivotal in instigating a particularly bloody civil war in the small nation-state, in which it is estimated that approximately 150,000 people would die between 1975 and 1990, although some sources estimate the death toll is a quarter of a million.

The mandate territories in the Middle East included the region of Syria, awarded to France by the League of Nations. Due to a concentrated Christian presence, Lebanon was split from the Greater Syrian region, and was formed as a primarily Christian nation. Lebanon was an unstable factionalised mix, with weak governance and a resentful Islamic minority. War broke out between Muslims and Christians in 1958, after the Islamic populace took issue with Lebanon's pro-Western stance. The Islamic faction was defeated with US intervention. Since an effective PLO invasion, a succession of massacres were committed by the various warring factions (Muslim and Christian). It would result in a substantive amount of the Christian populace fleeing West, such as to the United States, where a great deal of its middle-eastern populace is of Lebanese Christian origin. The continuing instability of Lebanon, and the surging power of Hizbullah, maintained pressure on the largely Maronite Catholic populace, which ceased to represent a majority by the 1990s. Today, Lebanese Christians are thought to only represent 30% of the populace although estimates vary.

Iran became closely involved in Lebanese affairs, circa 1980, giving considerable support to the ‘Amal Movement’, a terrorist Shi’ite group, and especially Hizbullah, which the Shi’ite State helped establish and greatly developed, in the name of resisting an Israeli presence. Islamist Hizbullah is oft seen in the Arab world as a proxy of Iran, rather than authentically Lebanese. Some smaller Sunni factions also received support from several Sunni-Arab nations but they tended to possess a pan-Arab or nationalistic orientation rather than a strong religiously sectarian identity.

Iran, and especially Syria, would maintain influences in the territory, which ultimately broke Lebanese Christian power. Syria would finally withdraw its presence in 2005, only for Hizbullah to tighten its military and political grip on the country.

The Civil War ended with Lebanon becoming a stricter kind of consociational (bi-national) state, where a new constitution dictated a strictly apportioned Islamic-Christian rule but Hizbullah effectively hold the reigns of power. Shia groups weakened rival Sunni militias and built up their forces in Southern Lebanon, pushing the Lebanese army aside. Hizbullah was the sole militia allowed to continue its activities after the end of the Lebanese Civil War. It brought chaos to the region, with continued strikes on Israel, and has effectively created a state within a state, with the capacity to collect taxes locally, whilst fuelling the international drugs trade.

Lebanon can be regarded as a stark precursor of the conflicted Middle East seen today, where Sunni and Shia openly challenge each other, while the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East face extinction in the short to medium term. Lebanon’s history, where Muslim rulers persecuted Christian minorities for more than a millennia, guided one community leader in 1947, Archbishop Ignace Moubarac of Beirut, to illustrate the region’s simmering religious sectarianism for Western leaders, in which he paralleled the fate of Christians and Jewish people in the Middle East, when at the mercy of Islam. It is perhaps a message that many leaders in the West have yet to comprehend, or prefer to ignore.

Enter war and UNIFIL

Israel invaded Southern Lebanon in March 1978, in response to a succession of PLO terrorist attacks from the mid-to-late 1970s. One attack by the PLO, dubbed the ‘Coastal Road Massacre’, resulted in the murder of 38 Israeli citizens, including 13 children, and the wounding of 76 others. Israel made an alliance with Major Saad Haddad’s ‘South Lebanon Army’ (SLA), which developed in Lebanon several years earlier (initially known as the ‘Free Lebanon Army’), to combat the instability caused by the PLO’s actions. The Christian militia was aided by Israel, since both had a mutual interest in opposing the PLO.

Israel achieved a rapid military success, driving the PLO away from the nation’s border. UNIFIL forces stepped in to facilitate an orderly withdrawal, and maintain a peaceable border area. Israel would withdraw in late 1978, and pass control to the quasi-official ‘South Lebanon Army’, which was established by a commander of the Lebanese Army, Major Saad Haddad, after the failure of the national army in the region. Haddad would be dismissed from the Lebanese Army the following year for proclaiming control of South Lebanon.

However, both UNIFIL and the SLA would fail to control South Lebanon. The PLO would reassert a capacity to assault Israel. In 1979 the PLO started shelling Northern Israel indiscriminately. In the summer of 1981, the PLO furthered its indiscriminate artillery barrages, which caused sustained harm to Northern Israel. A ceasefire was agreed but the PLO violated it repeatedly. The PLO also attacked Israel from Jordan, and targeted Israeli diplomats in Europe. This violence would ultimately instigate the 1982 Lebanon War, in which Israel sought to permanently expel the terror group.

Ireland’s UNIFIL troops were harassed by the SLA, which deemed UNIFIL to be interlopers, but would nonetheless co-operate much of the time. Combat fatalities would not occur until April 1980, when relations with Israel declined in a dramatic fashion, after the SLA killed two UNIFIL troops, in the aftermath of a battle that had led to fatalities on both sides.

Brian Lenihan, Snr, (1930-95), Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs
(held the ministerial office in 1973, 1979-81, and 1987-89) 

The Bahrain Declaration

The then president of Ireland, Dr. Patrick Hillery, visited Bahrain in February 1980. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Lenihan, Senior (1930-95) held talks with his Bahraini ministerial equivalent, on February 10th, where they drafted a joint communiquĂ©, which principally dealt with the Arab-Palestinian concern, as well as other diplomatic and economic issues. Lenihan also delivered a speech in Bahrain severely criticising Israel. The two would effectively become known as the ‘Bahrain Declaration’, and would set a sort of precedent in Western politics, with Ireland becoming the first EEC member-state to advocate for the inclusion of the PLO in a peace process toward statehood.

Lenihan called for the establishment of a Palestinian State, and called for Israel’s withdrawal from all territory captured in 1967. The Declaration cited “relevant” Security Council resolutions to support the stance, which misrepresented the substance of territorial issues appertaining to UN Security Council Resolution 242. The Declaration asserted that the PLO are the legitimate representatives of the Arab-Palestinian people toward the formation of a State, but it did not make any reference to terrorism or Israel’s security needs. At the time, this was an unusually hard-line stance for a Western state, which more closely followed the views of the Soviet and Islamic blocks at the United Nations. The Bahrain Declaration was the forerunner of the EEC’s ‘Vienna Declaration’ of 1981, which also reiterated the PLO’s legitimacy, despite its continued belligerence. Shortly before the Venice Conference, Arafat reiterated that PLO/Fatah’s “aim is to liberate Palestine completely and to liquidate the Zionist entity politically, economically, militarily, culturally and ideologically.” The terminology suggested an intent toward ethnic cleansing and perhaps genocide.

Controversially, Lenihan asserted that the PLO was no longer a terrorist organisation, describing Yasser Arafat as a “moderate”, for which the Irish minister saw a “full role” in negotiations. Lenihan’s announcement that the PLO had become a legitimate organisation occurred just with the close of a decade in which a vast number of infamous attacks on Israeli citizens occurred. Lenihan made these prognostications at a time when Irish UNIFIL troops were dealing with the effects of the PLO violence in Lebanon. Yet this notion of a supposed moderation was very much in evidence in Lenihan’s speech.

Lenihan also claimed that the Irish Republican Army had no involvement with the PLO. The proposition is clearly false. At a time when the Northern Irish Troubles was of supreme import to the Irish State, it is extremely improbable that the advance of this denial was anything other than a knowing untruth furthered by the Foreign Affairs Minister. In an era of many IRA terrorist attacks on the Island of Ireland, it may be assumed that the denial had the intent of lessening the PLO’s image, as a terrorist entity, with the FM’s Irish audience.

Lenihan’s assertions were so out of kilter with the observed reality of the time that they came across as an absurdity. The speech caused considerable anger in Israel, and at home in Ireland, where Dr. David Rosen, Ireland’s Chief Rabbi, voiced criticism. Dr. Rosen stated that Ireland’s stance may increase the already volatile tensions in Lebanon, and was critical of what he saw as the motivations of the Irish government, which he believed was driven by a need for oil. This was not an unreasonable assumption in the aftermath of the 1973 OPEC Oil Crisis, which attempted to punish the West, after Arab forces failed to defeat Israel. Frank McClusky, leader of the Labour Party, was of the same belief. However, Senator Noel Mulcahy suggested the Rabbi was threatening Irish UNIFIL troops posted in Lebanon.

When the pro-Palestinianism of Lenihan’s ‘Bahrain Declaration’ was challenged, the minister stated that the PLO would not be recognised by Ireland until they recognised Israel’s right to exist. However, Lenihan had already recognised the PLO as legitimate representatives. In 1993, a consular Fatah (PLO) Arab-Palestinian Delegation would be given permission to establish in Ireland. Yasser Arafat (the PLO chairman) recognised Israel in an official letter to then prime-minister, Yitzhak Rabin, that same year. However, the PLO Charter continues to call for Israel’s destruction through armed struggle. The process of updating the Charter was deliberately fudged by Yasser Arafat during the latter part of the Oslo talks process. It is telling, perhaps, that the Declaration was made in Bahrain, a state that does not recognise Israel’s right to exist.

An extract of the Bahrain Declaration - Palestine & Mid-East Section
(Source: 'Eurabia', a pan-Arab European lobby group, Dublin branch)

Irish support for Palestinianism, including Arafat’s PLO, would remain considerable. Brian Lenihan himself told Arafat, during a visit in 1993, of the “genuine warmth in Ireland for you and your cause” [Ireland-Palestine lecture] which points to Lenihan’s own approach during the fraught UNIFIL years, and rather unashamed support for a particularly virulent terror movement.

By contrast, formal Irish relations with Israel would remain non-existent, for a protracted period of time. Ireland only recognised Israel in 1975, being the last state in the EEC to do so, and was the sole country in the European Union without an Israeli embassy until 1996. Ireland is not only supportive of Palestinianism but has displayed a distinct hostility toward Israel with respect to other matters. A year after Bahrain, Ireland strongly condemned the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s nuclear weapons facilities.

UNIFIL killings

Ironically perhaps, the presence of Irish troops at the Lebanese border caused new and substantive diplomatic tensions. The soldiers were placed in the midst of a civil war, where the pressures from warring sides can lead peace-keepers to pick one side over another, potentially ending in disaster.

Something of a diplomatic crisis would ensue two months after the Declaration. On April 7th, the SLA shot an Irish soldier during a protracted gun battle near At Tiri. The soldier would die from his injuries on the 16th of April. The Irish State would lambast Israel for the death because Israel had an allegiance with the group. The Irish authorities were concerned that their diplomatic machinations had greatly increased tensions with the SLA, and would apply substantive diplomatic pressure upon Israel in the following weeks. The following day, the Israeli government would assert that Ireland’s foreign policy stance on the Arab-Palestinian/PLO issue was distinct to its role in UNIFIL — the former would not prejudice the latter.

However, Major Haddad publicly demanded financial compensation, or the bodies of two Irish soldiers, for the death of an SLA member, the 19 year old brother of one Mahmoud Bazzi, who was killed by UNIFIL during the clash. On the 18th, three Irish soldiers were abducted, two of which were murdered by Bazzi (Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne — John O’Mahoney survived). There was much speculation that the recent killings were a response to the Bahrain Declaration. Menachem Begin, Israel’s prime-minister, condemned the killing of the troops. Sholmo Agrov, Israeli Ambassador to the UK, forcefully denied that the killings had any relation to the Declaration, during an interview on RTE radio, several days afterward. Ireland would also obtain a European Council statement of condemnation, in response to the killings.

There are varying beliefs on whether the Bahrain Declaration was a causal factor in the killing of Irish troops. It has been noted that Haddad’s troops were involved in significant conflict with UNIFIL prior to the Declaration. Before 1980, Ireland had a reputation as a nation unusually sympathetic to the PLO. In 1979, at the UN General Assembly, Michael O’Kennedy, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, called for a comprehensive solution of the Arab-Palestinian issue, involving the PLO. Yet the violence in April 1980 represented something of an escalation. It is difficult to lay blame for the killings at Israel’s door, because the murder of Barrett and Smallhorne was motivated by a personal grudge, as demonstrated in a confessional interview and Bazzi’s subsequent trial — of note, John O’Mahony, the sole survivor, stated that at one point an Israeli intelligence officer attempted to dissuade Bazzi from either continuing the abduction, or killing the soldiers, before giving up and leaving. However, it is quite likely that the sharp diplomatic impact of the Bahrain Declaration would have had some bearing on Haddad’s harsher treatment of Irish forces. In 1980, the Irish would have more comprehensively resembled enemies, rather than mere impediments.

Dr. Rory Miller, a senior lecturer at King’s College, who authored several books on the Middle East, notes that Irish troops were thought to be prejudicial:
“Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Irish regularly called in the Israelis to threaten them and discipline them over the treatment of Irish UNIFIL troops… There was a lot of animosity, as would happen on any tense border. There are two sides to this story. The Irish troops were no less guilty of turning a blind eye to Arab violence than any other UN troops. On the other hand, I have spoken with a number of IDF liaison officers who worked with UNIFIL and they all praise the professionalism of their Irish counterparts.”
The view that some or many Irish UNIFIL troops did not maintain the highest standards of neutrality, which their role would require to minimise tensions, and the potential for clashes with local factions, was a belief also expressed in the Irish media and within the Irish Parliament. It has been claimed that some Irish forces went as far as to assist the PLO in efforts to cross the border into Israel. Whether or not such claims are valid, and while the generalised criticism expressed in some quarters may be an inequitable representation of the conduct of many UNIFIL soldiers, the notable Palestinianism of successive Irish governments, not least with the issuance of the ‘Bahrain Declaration’, would have contributed to the notion that a favouritism for the PLO was prevalent amongst the Irish contingents in Lebanon. Chief Rabbi Dr. David Rosen was perhaps correct in stating that Irish foreign policy manoeuvres placed UNIFIL soldiers at undue risk, in a time of bitter civil war within Lebanon.

Some have asserted that belief in a culture of anti-Israel bias at Ireland’s UNIFIL troop is reinforced by the fact that a notable number of former troops went on to become anti-Israel activists, for example Dr. Ray Murphy, a former army captain and NUI Galway law lecturer at the ‘Irish centre for human rights’ which has presented lectures by PFLP terrorist Shawan Jabarin, who currently leads anti-Israel lawfare NGO al-Haq. Another former UNIFIL officer, journalist Tom Clonan, has repeatedly accused Israel of ‘massacre’ and ‘war crimes’, while being aware of the chaos of war causing harmful effects to civilian populaces, without the necessary cause of intent being present.

Colonel Desmond Travers, one of the four members of the UN Goldstone Commission, displays an attitude toward Israel that disconnects from very basic reality. Travers denied that Israel acted in self-defence, with respect to the 2008-09 Gaza War, stating that Hamas had maintained a ceasefire! He also stated “so many Irish soldiers had been killed by Israelis… a significant number who were taken out deliberately and shot.” He may be referring to the claim that an Israeli intelligence officer was present shortly before Mahmoud Bazzi killed two UNIFIL solders, on April 18th 1980. One of the victims, John O’Mahoney stated (14:11 mins) in the documentary ‘Peacekeepers: The Irish In South Lebanon’ (critiqued in another section below):
“Shouting in Arabic, my brother, my brother, and he [Bazzi] was wearing a black vest. Now Tom Barrett said to me, he said you know, black vests it means death. He [Bazzi] took the three of us out, and he took us up the steps and across the veranda, and an Israeli Intelligence Officer was trying to negotiate with him but next thing he just walked away, he walked away Bazzi opened fire.”
O’Mahoney affirms that the Israeli officer attempted to dissuade Bazzi from the killings, but appears to have possessed no authority to compel the militiaman, in a building housing other members of the SLA. Travers served in Lebanon so must be intimately acquainted with the events of that day. It appears that Israel is only directly implicated in the death of one Irish UNIFIL soldier throughout the entire mission, one Corporal. Dermot McLoughlin, killed in 1987 due to the effects of a tank shell.

Moral culpability

The question of these deaths, and several others in the intervening years, would worsen Ireland’s near non-existent diplomatic relations with Israel. Yet Ireland’s reaction was not remotely as trenchant toward Arab-Palestinian and Islamist groups, when found blameworthy of the killing of Irish UNIFIL forces. In April 1981, the PLO killed two Irish solders. Private Hugh Doherty was killed, and Private Kevin Joyce was taken prisoner, to be murdered subsequently. The Irish State was substantively more reticent in dealing with this situation, even though Arab-Palestinian sources appear to have cynically used Private Joyce’s death as a source of propaganda, perhaps holding onto his corpse to prevent his burial. Joyce’s body was never to be found.

If anything, the attitude that Israel was necessarily responsible for the actions of Major Haddad, and the South Lebanon army, and the intensity of Ireland’s criticism, merely reinforced the view that the Irish authorities possessed a strong bias. Israel and Haddad were allies, operating in a not-dissimilar way to that of Syria which was allied to the PLO, and Iran being allied at the time to Amal. Yet there was no substantive condemnation of Syria for the actions of the PLO at the time, nor subsequently toward Iran.

Whilst a given party can rightly be criticised for its allegiances, it is a step too far to hold them directly responsible for the actions of the aligned party, unless they were complicit in directing such a policy. There may still be some level of indirect responsibility, if the actions of one party to an alliance knows the other party will use their assistance for ill. From a moral perspective, where one party aligns with a more destructive party, blameworthiness toward the former party must ultimately apply if their alliance is intended to mount acts of territorial aggression, or if it is an alliance that is entirely voluntary (not strictly necessary) in nature. Israel needed allies in South Lebanon because UNIFIL were not fulfilling their obligations to bring conditions of peace. Otherwise it would be considerably harder to protect civilians at its border, with the likely resultant increase in civilian casualties in Northern Israel, which the PLO and Hizbullah targeted with some success. Thus, the alliance was justified. By contrast, early Syrian and later Iranian alliances were entirely voluntary, and largely intended to aggress against Israel, regardless of its presence in Lebanon.

The route Ireland took with its diplomatic conduct toward Israel, reduced the idea of the SLA, fighting a civil war against the PLO and other Islamists, to that of mere puppets. The stance was not factually valid. It is possible that Ireland did so to further distance themselves from Israel at a diplomatic level.

Economically informed diplomacy

The weak diplomatic response by successive Irish governments, to the PLO’s numerous attacks on Irish troops serving in Lebanon, during the early to mid 1980s, was especially puzzling because it was widely known that the PLO had interacted substantially with the Provisional IRA since the late 1960s, helping turn the republican terror group into an efficient killing force, which also posed a threat in Southern Ireland. Since the mid-1970s, Irish governments had taken substantive measures to suppress the republican group’s activities, e.g. the formation of a closed criminal court to prevent intimidation.

The answer may have some relation to the fact that the PLO, and its related groups, were sponsored by numerous Arab nations, and it would be diplomatically inopportune to cause upset to a group of notoriously sensitive despots, over a matter so close to the greatest Arabist cause of the era, particularly when attempting to enter their national markets, with agricultural produce (Ireland became a significant supplier of beef), etc. There is some justification in concluding that the Irish State paid little heed in its diplomacy, in the pursuit of narrow economic interests, with regard to the safety of the UNIFIL troops.

Ireland’s trade with the Middle-East multiplied in the 1970’s, and by the early 80’s it was rated at sixty-fold that of Israel, while the security of oil supplies was a major preoccupation (Keatings, Patrick. ‘European foreign policy-making and the Arab-Israeli conflict: Ireland’. 1984. Martinus Hijhoff. Page 20) for the Irish State, in the aftermath of the 1973 OPEC Oil Crisis. Trade issues were detailed when foreign affairs minister, Brian Lenihan visited Bahrain, an issue of particular import when Ireland was going through an economic crisis that would lead to substantive political instability through the early 1980s. There was even an openness to the establishment of an Iranian embassy, in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian hostage crisis. It was also argued at the time that Taoiseach (prime-minister) Charles Haughey had developed a taste for political activism, arguably to improve Ireland’s standing on the international stage.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

The issue of bias, across the UNIFIL contingents, does seem to have been a reality. For example, in 2000, UNIFIL was complicit in Hizbullah’s fatal abduction of three IDF soldiers. UNIFIL obstructed the IDF investigation, by denying the existence of security tapes which could have helped discover the abductors. UNIFIL later acknowledged the existence of the tapes but refused to supply them for several months. The cars are believed to have been turned over to Hizbullah. In 2010, it was reported that the Norwegian contingent actually broke two Lebanese terrorists out of an Israeli jail, and disguised them in UNIFIL uniforms. During the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah conflict, UNIFIL broadcast detailed reports of Israeli troop movements, numbers, and positions on their website, while not reporting similar details concerning Hizbullah.

The 2006 Lebanon War, began in the aftermath of Hizbullah kidnapping Israeli troops, and launched indiscriminate rocket strikes against Israel’s civilian population centres. Approximately 300,000 to 500,000 Israeli civilians fled Northern Israel due to Hizbullah’s attacks. UNIFIL MKII was instituted after the war, to disarm Hizbullah, and form a twenty kilometre buffer zone at Israel’s border. UNIFIL failed to do so on both counts. The Iranian proxy has in fact dramatically enhanced its weapons arsenal, with a reported missile armament estimated to be at least 100,000, which may include chemical and biological weaponry. Senator Francesco Cossiga, a former Italian president, asserted that Italy’s UNIFIL force arranged to ignore Hizbullah’s procurement of weaponry, as long as the terror group desisted from attacking the UN ‘peace-keepers’.

Unfortunately, even in the post-9/11 world, Ireland’s soft approach to Islamo-terrorist groups would remain. Hizbullah has continued to harass UNIFIL troops, but Ireland, and the EU, have not remonstrated with Iran. Some speculate that the increased harassment, directed at particular UNIFIL national groupings, coincides with their respective nation states criticising Iran.

Ireland was a leading force in the diplomatic opposition to Hizbullah being designed a terrorist entity by the European Union, despite terrorist attacks having occurred on European soil, particularly a bus bombing in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli civilians and one other driver. Hizbullah was involved in the killing of the largest number of US citizens before 9/11, has openly expressed genocidal ambitions toward world Jewry — killing a huge number of Jewish people in Argentina, and finances its activities with international drug trafficking on a rather grand scale. Ireland’s diplomatic move was seen as unusual, given that Germany, France and Spain, which have substantive UNIFIL forces, supported Hizbullah’s terrorist designation.

Irish UNFIL Death tolls, and the media influence

Dr. Rory Miller has noted that Irish media coverage of the UNIFIL (I) troop presence was notably anti-Israel in tone, which tracked and arguably strengthened the resolve of the Irish authorities to find Israel blameworthy. The tone of coverage by elements within the media is illustrated by a Travers interview:
“… because so many Irish soldiers had been killed by Israelis, (some too by Palestinians and/or their Lebanese cohorts), with a significant number who were taken out deliberately and shot (in South Lebanon), slowly but surely, the body-bag phenomenon came into effect, and suddenly Ireland is now perceived as almost entirely pro-Palestinian.”
The views expressed in that statement may be sincerely held, but it tells more of the impressions presented by the Irish mainstream media than of actual fact. 45 to 47 Irish UNIFIL soldiers died between 1978 and 2000. Narratives on the conflict do not note that most soldiers actually died from accidents. The impression given by the media is often otherwise, due to a peculiar focus on Israel’s supposed misdeeds. That most should die from accidents is perhaps unsurprising, in view of the fact that the Ireland had between 45,000 and 50,000 UNIFIL members serving in Lebanon, at varying times, over a 22 year period, serving in rugged terrain, sometimes with aged transit vehicles. Most notably, four soldier would accidentally die on February 14th 2000. Another Irish soldier murdered three of his colleagues in 1982.

Statistics are difficult to obtain but, Robert Fisk’s article (reproduced in Defence Forces Review, 2008) ‘At-Tiri, or Bosnia Avoided: The Irish in UNIFIL 1978 — 95’, notes that:
“an examination of the non-accidental casualties in Irelands thirty five Infantry battalions over the seventeen years of their service in UNIFIL suggest that the Irish have suffered in equal proportions from all parties to the conflict in southern Lebanon. Although the UN does not provide such statistics — nor I think does the Irish army — my own figures show clearly that of the fourteen Irish soldiers killed in action or murdered in cold blood, seven were killed north of the SLA-UNIFIL ridge-line and seven to the south. Six Irish soldiers were killed by Haddad’s militiamen, one by the Israelis — this was Corporal Dermot McLoughlin, killed by Israeli Merkava tank round on 10 January 1987 — five by the Hizballah and two by Palestinians. Of the five who died at the hands of the Hizballah, four were killed by landmines, the fifth Corporal Peter Ward, by a Hizballah militiaman at Al-Jurn on 29 September 1992. These details would suggest that Ireland suffered half its combat/murder casualties at the hand of Israel and its allies and half at the hands of Israel’s Palestinian and Hizballah enemies — grim but persuasive proof, I think, that the Irish battalions did not take sides in the south Lebanon war.”
Fisk attributes 14 of the 38 soldiers killed up to that point, as having died in combat. He appears to over-count fatalities attributed to the SLA by two — in 1999 there was one other fatality attributed by the SLA, Private. William Kedian, making five killed by the SLA in total. Fisk, a journalist noted for his staunch anti-Israel viewpoints, would never do Israel any favours with regard to statistics, so he cannot be said to be minimising fatalities attributed to Israel.

It is rather dubious to argue that the Irish UNIFIL contingent was balanced because the death tolls are roughly equal. Fisk may have adapted a common defense of media organisations, which argue that their news content must essentially be neutral because there are complaints about their coverage from both sides of a given issue. The argument is fallacious, because it ignores the potential validity of complaints. They can be legitimate or illegitimate, with the less moral of pressure groups expecting the media to unduly adopt their narratives. Likewise, UNIFIL’s reputed bias for the PLO/Hizbullah etc., could be enforced with threatening behaviour and killings. Fear is the essential tool of successful terrorist organisations. Hizbullah have a history of intimidating UNIFIL, if they deem them to insufficiently malleable, or for wider political considerations, even though UNIFIL has conducted itself favourably toward the group. 

The broad media’s position is revisited with Robert Fisk’s stance in a retrospective article (UK Independent, March 17th 2001), in which he describes the killers of some Irish troops as “Israel’s murderous little proxy force, the ‘South Lebanon Army’”, while other killers are artfully labelled as “Dissident Palestinians”. Despite the passage of time, the tendency in media coverage, to blame Israel over that of other groups, would continue into the UNIFIL II phase. The 1980 murder of two Irish UNIFIL soldiers in Lebanon, by Mahmoud Bazzi, was given extensive treatment by RTE’s investigative show ‘Prime Time’ (RTE1, December 1st 2015). The report did not note the identity of the group, nor even its well-known name, despite the feature’s length. It merely noted that the organisation was an “Israeli-backed militia”.

Crude propaganda

RTE’s documentary, ‘Peacekeepers: The Irish in South Lebanon’ (produced and directed by John Higgins, and Shane Brennan), was notable for providing such an anti-Israel slant that it would be difficult to distinguish its content from that of the more virulent forms of conflict propaganda. Despite the benefit of hindsight, the documentary forwarded many of the falsities presented by the Irish media through the years, which unduly focus on Israel-related wrongdoing to the near-exclusion of all else.

The programme failed to mention any violent attacks on Ireland’s UNIFIL troops by the PLO, with Dr. Ray Murphy stating that the South Lebanon Army caused virtually all of the conflict issues with Irish UNIFIL troops. The documentary misrepresented the identity of the first UNIFIL casualty, by distorting the timeline. With undue rapidity, it presented UNIFIL forces as battling the SLA near At Tiri, and so effectively presented Stephen Griffin as Irish UNIFIL’s first fatality, having some Israeli-related cause. However, the first UNIFIL fatality was Gerard Moone, who died in a “traffic Accident”. After Moone’s death, Thomas Reynolds would die of another traffic accident that same year, and Private Philip Grogan drowned the following year. The documentary focused on Israeli/SLA actions but failed to mention that more than two-thirds of all the Irish UNIFIL deaths occurred due to non-combat issues, primarily accidents.

The programme discussed in significant detail the killings by the SLA’s Mahmoud Bazzi, and the death of another soldier in 1999 during an SLA attack. It is likely that roughly equal numbers were killed by both sides. Yet, on the opposing side, the documentary would only mention the killing of a single soldier by Amal, even though Amal is associated with an intentional IED hit, which killed three troops in 1989, claimed to be a cover-up: an independent governmental report stated that “deficient assessment” was the cause. There was no mention of the killing of two soldiers by the PLO in 1981, one of which was ‘disappeared’, and could not be found after years of investigation by the Irish Defence Forces.

When recounting events relating to the initiation of war, the documentary repeatedly obsecured which side aggressed against the other. For example, the narrator stated that both the PLO and Israel were engaged in a series of “brutal attacks” during the late 1970s, noting an attack that killed 34 Israelis, which it compared with the death toll from the Israeli invasion of 1978, which conflated civilian and terrorist death tolls, to infer that the invasion was disproportionate. Similarly, the narrator failed to note that Hizbullah aggressed against Northern Israel, with successive missile attacks in 1995/96 on civilian populaces, leading to a substantive military response in 1996, dubbed ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’ — merely referring to a series of “lethal attacks” after the breach of a three-year cease-fire. The documentary failed to note that Israel apologised for a strike on a building housing civilians, which Tom Clonan described as a “deliberate” attack, an act that he described as a “massacre”, despite recent admissions that there were IDF failures on the ground.

The documentary stated that Israel did not withdraw in 1978. Ray Murphy, Robert Fisk, and others, asserted that Israel did not go along with the UNIFIL mandate. Lara Marlow, a noted anti-Israel journalist, sarcastically asserted that it took Israel 22 years to withdraw. Murphy made a similar claim. However, Israel did withdraw in late 1978, handing over control of the territory it took to the SLA. If Israel had remained in South Lebanon then it could hardly have reinvaded again in 1982.

The narrator also stated that Lebanese groups, Hizbullah and Amal, were established to “resist” the Israeli occupation from 1982. However, Hizbullah is a proxy of Iran, created by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, to bring conflict to Israel, and has engaged in anti-Jewish terrorism across the world. Amal was founded in 1974, some eight years before the longer term Israeli occupation. The programme also failed to note the continued assaults by the PLO on Israel, which forced the 1982 Israeli invasion.

The programme failed to note the widespread belief that Irish troops favoured the PLO, and would in fact affirm the opposite — that the Irish were an “honest broker”. Ray Murphy stated that the Irish UNIFIL troops felt a natural sympathy for the poor Shia locals, but there was no mention of the fact that Lebanese Sunni and especially Christian groupings have been marginalised by conflict.

Tom Clonan, argued that if it were not for the UNIFIL Irish troops, killing would be on a scale similar to Syria. This was a peculiar observation for the ‘security analyst’ with the Irish Times to make, because Lebanon is a much small nation, with a populace five times smaller in 2011 (4.4 million) than pre-war Syria (22 million), or eight and a half times smaller than 2011 pre-war Syria, at 2.75 million before civil war commenced in 1975. If the populace of the two nations (before conflict commenced) is taken into consideration, the tolls (150,000-250,000 over 15 years, and 400,000 over five years - March 2016 UN estimate) would suggest that the Lebanese Civil War had at least as great a proportional impact upon its people. Yet the Lebanese Civil War would rarely be mentioned in the documentary, despite its importance to the conflict. Clonan, asserted that “the Irish people can be genuinely proud of the troops”, but the documentary’s praise (brave professional individual soldiers notwithstanding) should be tempered by the entirely factual observation that UNIFIL has miserably failed twice in its purported objectives.

The documentary latterly referred to the killing of a Spanish UNIFIL soldier, in a January 2015 Israeli missile strike. The documentary featured footage and narration from an ITN report on the event, detailing the substantive measures employed by Israel, presumably to present it as a disproportionate attack. However, the documentary did not mention the attack was in response to the killing of two Israelis (in the Shabba Farms region), nor the fact that the IDF had come under repeated attack from across the Lebanese border. The documentary spoke of UNIFIL precautions in the aftermath of the attack but did not discuss the quite recent intimidatory efforts by Hizbullah, which nearly led the EU to pull its troops out of Lebanon.

Published at Crethi Plethi.


Con said...

RE:"defending the right to legitimately criticise FAITHS on ideological grounds as a right of free speech"
Dear Rob,
Tonight I discovered Crethi Plethi for the first time and I am delighted to read most of it
(I will catch the rest another time!). I respectfully suggest that it is not appropriate to criticize FAITHS on ideological grounds. Do you not mean "Religion"? I note that you did use the word religion in that opening paragraph. Faith is such a personal and subjective thing and, taken seriously by any individual who adheres to it, it can be devastating. Perhaps again, if I may politely say, it would be rather offensive.
Thank you for a very enjoyable evening reading you contribution to Crethi Plethi and more!
Sincerely, Con

Rob Harris said...

Hello Con,

Thank you for your comment and welcome to the blog – there is a vast amount of material on Crethi Plethi so take your time reading through it.

By ‘faiths’ I refer to religions, rather than any notion of an individual person’s personal faith . I thought that was clear because the word is used within the context of referring to the criticism of faiths in the plural, and in relation to ideological grounds, which would be a more objective form of criticism not specifically directed at the believer’s personal relationship with God through the nexus of their faith. This usage of the word ‘faith’ is also found in dictionaries, but shall ask a few people if mission statement of the blog causes misunderstanding.

From a personal point of view, I recognise the great value of faith to the individual, and try to avoid being unduly antagonistic in articles. There should nonetheless be the capacity to criticise a given religion for the values that it instills (e.g. anti-Semitism or Christianophobia) – in other words, the ideology it perpetuates.

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