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Laudable Versus Laughable

In the wake of Israeli admissions that perhaps the object may have been a stretcher, Ha’aretz unleashes its attack dogs:

The State of Israel, via the Israel Defense Forces, the intelligence community and the Foreign Ministry, and with the encouragement of the prime and defense ministers, has become entangled in and embarrassed by the affair of the Qassam-or-stretcher in Gaza. In its eagerness to show that the Palestinians will stoop to any means, Israel behaved with reckless haste and injured its pretensions to superiority over the Palestinians with regard to credibility. This has implications not merely for public relations, but also for diplomacy, and is even liable to weaken Israel in the legal arena. 
 
This does not mean that the United Nations, and especially its Relief and Works Agency, is completely guilt-free. Their identification with the Palestinians is clear and open. But the question is not whether Qassam crews, or other groups of armed men en route to commit attacks, really make use of UN vehicles. There have certainly such been cases, just as, in the 1950s, there were cases in which IDF units, including some well-known to Ariel Sharon, made operational use of either genuine or fake UN observer vehicles.

 

There is only one issue at stake here: How the Israeli establishment came to commit a gaffe that increases skepticism about official announcements made by the state, its army and its ambassadors – and not for the first time. Last October, during another aerial operation in Gaza, two major generals – then-Air Force commander Dan Halutz and head of the Operations Directorate, Israel Ziv – were found to have deliberately misled the Israeli public via the military correspondents. For the sake of gaining an operational advantage, the IDF published false announcements about its use of helicopters, with the blessing of the chief of staff and the defense minister. Then, the problem was essentially domestic. Today, the conflict is with foreign parties, who in the future will be much harder to convince.

 

It is possible that the Palestinians who were filmed putting a long object into a UN vehicle were, indeed, handling a Qassam rocket. Possible – but that is an insufficient level of probability. Israel did not prepare in advance for the presentation of an alternative explanation, such as a stretcher (something that could reasonably be expected to be found in the hands of a medical crew summoned to treat casualties), and therefore it could not refute it. After four years of promises by the army and the intelligence agencies about how carefully their personnel cross-check information before tagging someone for a targeted killing, the defense establishment has demonstrated hasty amateurism. Now, it will have to work much harder to prove its claims.

 

Any idiot would have assumed that before publishing such a weighty charge against the UN, the IDF spokesman, the chief of staff, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s public relations department and the responsible ministers, including Sharon, would have examined the entire chain of actions committed by the alleged gang – from placing the object in the vehicle to unloading the rocket or even firing it at the Negev. At the same time, the intelligence agencies should have gathered supplementary information to make certain of the license plate number and the identities of the men who were filmed. But reliable military sources have admitted over the last two days that none of this was done.

 

No blood was spilled in the Qassam-or-stretcher affair, but it was the verbal equivalent of friendly fire. It must not be allowed to pass in silence. The chain of failures must be investigated, and personal and systemic conclusions must be drawn.

It is a valid point that Israel should have been more careful and scrupulous in its fact checking. Even though there is no denying that Israel’s suspicions are justified, while making a serious accusation about a particular incident, Israel should have looked into the possibility that there were other explanations.

 

Having said that, Israel’s latest response has been laudable:

Israel insists that terrorist are exploiting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) even as it admitted that military experts might have mistaken a stretcher for a Kassam rocket in a video showing an object being thrown into a UN vehicle.

 

Terrorist organizations are using UNRWA, its ambulances, and its medical system. We are also witnessing terrorists shooting out of hospitals,” said Foreign Ministry deputy director-general for public affairs Gideon Meir.

 

Israel has concrete evidence to back up its claims, Meir said. It will be shown to a United Nations team due to arrive in the region for an already scheduled trip. The team has been tasked with investigating Israeli claims against UNRWA.

 

Separately the IDF announced Tuesday that it has arrested 13 Palestinians working for the United Nations who are suspected of being terrorists.

—-

“How can it be that under the nose of UNRWA a huge infrastructure, an industry of terror, was established in Jenin?” asked Meir. He noted most of the terrorist attacks that killed 133 people in April 2002 originated in Jenin.

 

The IDF might have been mistaken in the case of the video, but if so, it was an honest mistake, said Meir.

 

“The IDF is checking right now, it does not have a definite answer,” Meir said. But even if it turns out that it was a stretcher, the claim that terrorist are exploiting UNRWA is still true.

 

“Credibility is one of the most important assets in Israel’s public relations. As a principal, we do not lie. Now and then we make mistakes. But my colleagues and I do not have the luxury to do what the Palestinian spokesmen are doing, to lie,” said Meir.

In my opinion, Israel could not have responded better. The arrests, as well as the explicit mention of the Jenin link, are especially effective. And while the “lies vs honest mistake” comparison does not change the fact that even honest mistakes are unacceptable in some cases, it is nevertheless worthwhile to reinforce the point that there is a moral gulf between the two sides.

 

From the other side, UNRWA’s, and Hansen’s, insistence on an apology from the Israeli government is laughable. Given Hansen’s admission that UNRWA employs Hamas folk (which is more damning than Israel’s initial allegations), anything short of Hansen’s dismissal and a full investigation constitutes insufficient action.

 

Update: Imshin is sorry she wrote that she thought it was a rocket. I’m not. The publicity surrounding this latest incident has surpassed that of past similar incidents, which may have contributed to Hansen’s damning comments.

 

Update: A clarification regarding the arrests:

Israel has said that 13 UN employees in Gaza were arrested but later made it clear that the detentions took place over the past four years.

 

Israeli General Yisrael Ziv announced the arrests on Tuesday.

 

But an army spokesman said the UN staff were among those detained since the start of the Palestinian intifada.

—-

Army spokesman Capt Jacob Dalal said the information about the UN arrests had been taken out of context.

 

“They are among all the people arrested in the course of the conflict,” he told Reuters. “Some may be held and some may not.”  

Update: Honest Reporting have more on UNRWA’s Hamas employees.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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