Modern Battlefield Protocol: Stay, Observe, Die

This battle that is raging in Lebanon is at times taking on the appearance of a parody of warfare.  Take for example the bombing of the UN outpost, as reported by the BBC:

UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon contacted Israeli troops 10 times before an Israeli bomb killed four of them, an initial UN report says.

The UN report says each time the UN contacted Israeli forces, they were assured the firing would stop.

This could have been lifted straight from the pages of Catch-22.  Here we have an all-out war between a well equipped and agressive army and a well armed and ruthless militia, and in the middle we have what their commanders are laughably calling peacekeepers making observations.

When in the history of warfare has any neutral bystander deliberately stayed put in no-man’s land when two armies clash in a pitched battle, much less for the purposes of keeping the peace some 12 days after hostilities began?  Of all the numerous examples of battlefield idiocy that history keeps for us, this must surely rank up there with the practice of marching slowly in a straight line towards massed cannon.

And when did it become acceptable practice for a neutral observer to telephone one of the battlefield commanders and ask him to cease fire?  The Israeli commander who took the request must have thought his UN interlocutor had taken leave of his senses.  Can you imagine Wellington at Waterloo receiving a note asking him to lay off the Frenchies for a while because some dickheads in the middle were getting hit with grapeshot?  I mean, take this for example:

A senior Irish soldier working for the UN forces had warned the Israelis six times that their bombardment was endangering the lives of UN staff, Ireland’s foreign ministry said.

It’s no wonder the Irish practice strict neutrality if that’s the kind of soldier they are putting into the field.  Does he not realise that by keeping his staff in situ during a bombardment he is endangering their lives?  Any soldier worth his salt who is not involved in the battle would have high-tailed it out of there after seeing his first request go unheeded by the Israelis, and this chap should have done the same.  But he kept them there even though he had asked no less than six times and each time his plea had been ignored!  Did our hero not get an inkling after the second or third request that the bombardment was going to continue and he really should get his men the fuck out of there?

Jeez, it’s no wonder foreigners’ armies send their best to Sandhurst for training.  If standing around in the middle of a battlefield waiting to get hit is now considered sensible military practice, I’m mighty glad I’m not a conscript in their army.


15 thoughts on “Modern Battlefield Protocol: Stay, Observe, Die

  1. Tim,

    You’re right about the UN force being so stupid to stay in place during the bombardment. I guess they never heard of USS Liberty, June 8, 1967.

    The Israeli’s do what they do. We’ll never get a straight answer, at least in our lifetime. Just think, you’re going to leave that all behind.

    Imagine, a global nuclear war starts and wipes out everyone on the planet, except for those in places like Sakhalin. It will be your duty to repopulate the world and instill them with your philosophy.


  2. I can see your point that if they asked 6 times or 10 times and it carried on, they should have high-ed their tails outta there. But to be fair, if the Israeli military answered each time “yes, we’ll stop bombing you now”, would they not have possibly believed that the Iraeli military might be telling the truth to UN soldiers? Would it not have been reasonable to expect the Israeli military to say “no, we are going to carry on bombing the shi-ite out of this area, so move your blue helmets elsewhere sharpish”? And the UN troops were finally hit by a high-precision guided munition…

  3. The UN were not some innocent bystanders. Their post was an umbrella for hezbollah. Israelis bomb the places where their enemy sent missiles from, not some random shooting just for spite.
    A quote from the post I found today:

    “Retired Canadian General Lew MacKenzie who is speaking in Toronto tonight at a Stand with Israel rally was interviewed on CBC Toronto radio this a.m. He told the shows anchor that he had received an e-mail only days before from the dead Canadian observor who was a member of his former battalion. MacKenzie says that the message indicated in effect that the UN position was being used as cover by Hezbollah, who, MacKenzie explained, can do so quite freely as they are not members of the UN and not subject, therefore, to official condemnation.”

  4. Tatyana,

    I have little doubt that the UN were not innocent bystanders, but for the purposes of this post I was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    My main point is that even if we are charitable and assume the UN was completely neutral in all of this, they still behaved in a most idiotic way which resulted in four of their staff getting killed.

  5. I disagree. The commander of the UN troops was in a situation where shells were raining down on his position – or, at least, raining down on the surrounding kilometer.

    It was clearly very dangerous outside.

    But, at his disposal, he had an underground bunker. I don’t think the choice to shelter underground was that unreasonable. The bunker, presumably would have protected them from all but the most direct hits from shelling (and a direct hit must be unlikely, given the lack of precision that can be achieved with shelling). Whereas, venturing outside would have opened them up to the risk of being hit by the shelling.

    It was only the precision guided missile that left his strategy in tatters, and I think he can justifiably have been surprised at the decision to launch that particular attack, given the assurances he had received over the radio from the Israeli military.

    On the other hand, I fully agree with the thrust of your argument – that it’s bloody stupid for the UN force to remain in the middle of this conflict. The UN force has failed in its mandate, is taking no particular action with their troops on the ground, and are in mortal danger as long as they remain.

    I’d imagine that the mission itself can’t be ended without approval from the Security Council – extremely unlikely at the moment – but I’m sure the mission commander has the authority to pull his men out of clearly identified danger zones, if he feels it is operationally justified.

  6. Interestingly, it used to be common at battles to have observers present who would not be in immediate danger. It was quite usual for both sides to appoint their official historian who would meet his opposite number and then observe the battle together from some vantage point. They would usually come to agreement on the name for the battle and identify the victor. For example Agincourt.

  7. JohnM

    “It was quite usual for both sides to appoint their official historian who would meet his opposite number and then observe the battle together from some vantage point.”

    Well, Hezbollah’s got the BBC as its official historian – who should the Israelis choose?

  8. Well, Hezbollahs got the BBC as its official historian – who should the Israelis choose?

    I think you should read my contribution as an aside rather than a comment on the issue. That said, the UN are supposed to be there to oversee the last peace settlement. From that follows two things: the UN should one, have announced that Hizbollah broke the cease fire and were hiding amongst civilians to do so; two, that since the previous settlement has become null and void they intend to withdraw pending a new settlement. I seem to have missed both those events.

    The UN should have withdrawn or else except the risks inherent in being in the middle of a battlefield.

  9. JohnM

    Thanks for the response but I’m afraid I wasn’t being entirely serious. All I was seeking to convey is that the BBC is doing well as the mouthpiece and media representative of Hezbollah but I am at a loss to identify which of our media organisations (if any) is acting on behalf of the Israelis.

    Your and Tim’s point, that being in the middle of a battlefield is dangerous and doubly dangerous if one of the participants is using your proximity as a shield, is well taken.

  10. The CBS inerview with Mckenzie, that Tatyana refers to in comment no. 4, is now available on little green footballs under 26 July. It’s very instructive.

  11. Tim, I understand you have been blindly defending Israel, but this post is really strange! The men were in a bunker hiding from the shells, do you think they would not have been targeted had they left their bunker? If the same rocket that hit the bunker was from the other side, the terrorists, and “BY MISTAKE” would you have the same argument? Do you remember how the Israelis bombed the UN refugee camp in southern Lebanon during their “Grapes of Wrath” operation years ago? Were those ones also “observing and dying” ?
    I am not here defending Hezbollah, screw them, but your post is so out of logic. Those UN soldiers are being accused by both sides of being collaborators.
    You think the media is not being fair with Israel? I guess they are not broadcasting 10% of the destruction that is being brought upon Beirut and its civilians. By the way, this is the US-friendly government that is appointed in Lebanon, the one that got “elected” after the Syrians left.
    Israel is defending itself, agree, but that will never justify the indifferent destruction that they have been doing.
    Tim, You use logic in all your posts, and this is what I like about your writing, this one post lack logic so much that it reminds me of Gulf News articles; those very same ones you criticize.
    Anyway, thank you and congratulations on your engagement.

  12. Leo, you’re quite spectacularly missing the point. The UN shouldn’t have waited till there were actual shells falling around a specific installation before leaving; they should have left the entire battlefield as soon as it turned into a battlefield, some two weeks earlier.

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