Under a broiling hot midday sun on the south Lebanese-Israeli border this summer, an extraordinary and very angry meeting took place between two major generals: the 60-year-old Irish UN force commander in Lebanon and the 54-year-old deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army. Listening to them was the ambitious, pro-Israeli – but very inexperienced – US ambassador to the United Nations. The row between the two men appears to have been pre-planned by the Israelis to impress the highly impressionable Nikki Haley. It worked.
Haley had been helicoptered up to the border from Jerusalem on 8 June by Israeli General Aviv Kochavi for a tour regularly laid on for visiting – and gullible – US officials: a walk to the Lebanese frontier wire with many a fearful warning from the Israelis about Hezbollah “terrorists”, “secret” Hezbollah missile bunkers in UN-controlled territory and the failure of UN troops to “disarm” the “terrorists” in Lebanon. This is a familiar horror story, trotted out for American and other Western diplomats and politicians over more than 30 years.
All seemed bright sunshine and optimism when the UN force commander, General Mick Beary – one of Ireland’s most experienced UN peacekeepers with three tours of duty in Lebanon and postings to Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan behind him – explained to Haley that the situation on the Lebanese-Israeli border was stable, did not require further intervention and that the frontier was currently experiencing one of the most peaceful periods in its modern history. All true.
But not according to Kochavi – former Gaza divisional commander and Israeli ex-military intelligence director – who angrily told Beary that the UN was not doing its job and was frightened of entering Shiite villages in southern Lebanon for fear of confronting the pro-Iranian Hezbollah. Kochavi, say the Israelis, told Haley that the UN’s mandate should be changed to ensure its soldiers “disarmed” Hezbollah.