'Foul Play' Suspected In U.N. Withholding Of Kidnap Video From Israel

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Some kind of 'foul play' may have been involved in the United Nations withholding of a video tape from Israel taken hours after Hizballah guerillas kidnapped three Israeli soldiers last fall, calling into question the role of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, an Israeli official said on Monday.

After months of Israeli insistence, the U.N. finally admitted a week ago that it had a videotape in its possession taken by the U.N. peacekeepers of the vehicles and paraphernalia used by Hizballah in its ambush and abduction of the soldiers, some 18 hours after the incident.

There had to be some kind of 'goof up' or worse, some kind of 'foul play' involved in the incident, said former Director General of the Foreign Ministry Reuven Merhav said in a telephone interview, without elaborating.

In any case, the U.N. should be willing to hand over the video for humanitarian reasons, he said.

Israeli officials believe that the tape could shed light on the circumstances surrounding the abduction of Staff Sgts. Binyamin Avraham and Omar Sawayid and Sgt. Adi Avitan last October.

There has been no word on the condition of the three soldiers since the Hizballah kidnapped them in a cross-border ambush. DNA tests on bloodstains at the scene indicated that all three soldiers had been wounded.

The videotape is said to contain footage of a black and gray Range Rover and white Nissan, which were used to transport the soldiers. The vehicles were found later and videotaped about six miles from the scene by the U.N. peacekeepers.

The U.N. has refused an Israeli demand to hand over an unedited version of the video, offering instead to allow Israeli representatives to view the tape along with Lebanese representatives, but with the faces of non-U.N. personnel blanked out.

The world body fears that giving Israel the video would compromise its neutrality in the area.

Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer sent a strongly worded letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Sunday saying the U.N.'s decision not to hand over the video is "altogether puzzling and incongruous."

"It also raises doubts concerning the completeness of the video film," the letter said.

Ben-Eliezer charged that the "equal treatment" being given to Israel and Lebanon is both "inappropriate and inexplicable," since Israel was the only country, which requested the video and was the victim in the incident.

"The circumstances surrounding the shooting of the film ... and the protracted withholding of information from Israel regarding its very existence, have raised serious concerns, with my Government," he said, rejecting the U.N. offer to view the film.

Lebanese and Hizballah officials both warned the U.N. not to even show the film to Israel.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said his country would regard the showing of the tape "as a dangerous precedent and the transfer of information from inside Lebanese soil to the Israeli enemy [which] represents a departure from the mission of the international forces in the South."

Hizballah also said the incident "raised several serious questions about the nature of the United Nations mission in south Lebanon, especially with regard to transferring information to [Israel]."

Peacekeepers Not Fulfilling Mandate

Oddly enough, the incident has raised the same kinds of questions in Israel about whether or not the peacekeepers are fulfilling their role in Lebanon since sporadic cross-border violence has continued.

Merhav charged that the "main issue" is that the international troops have only fulfilled part of their mission.

UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] was created by a 1978 U.N. Security Council resolution with the purpose of "confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces, restoring international peace and security and assisting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area."

UNIFIL confirmed Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon a year ago despite a continuing dispute over a small border area known as Shebaa Farms. However, it has not established international security along the border nor has the Security Council demanded that Lebanon deploy its own army in the south.

Hizballah moved to fill the vacuum created by Israel's unilateral pullout last year.

Had the Security Council "paid more attention" to urging Lebanon to deploy its troops in the south, the kidnapping never would have occurred, Merhav charged.

Furthermore, he said, there is "good reason" to believe that the Hizballah carried out actions against Israel in places near UNIFIL positions in order to use the peacekeepers for cover. Hizballah knew that Israel would not return fire out of concern for hitting the U.N. positions, he said.

Other reports, which have been denied by the U.N., have gone further in suggesting that at least one UNIFIL soldier may have been actively involved in the abduction of the soldiers.

See Earlier Story:
Could UN Have Prevented Kidnapping of Israeli Soldiers? (July 6, 2001)