On October 7, 2000, three Israeli soldiers, Sgt. Adi Avitan, Sgt. Binyamin Avraham, and Sgt. Omer Saued, were patrolling the Mt. Dov sector of Israel-Lebanese border when they were ambushed by Hezbollah terrorists. The terrorists crossed the border into Israel, detonated a roadside bomb injuring the soldiers, and abducted them back into Lebanon. Subsequent investigations found that the Hezbollah men dressed in United Nations personnel garb, used vehicles covered in fake UN insignia, and slipped inside Israel to carry out the ambush of the soldiers. The soldiers may have been lured to the border fence upon seeing the UN markings on the vehicles. When the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) discovered the vehicles, they found them covered in blood.
The attack was apparently conducted a sign of solidarity with the new wave of Palestinian terrorism against Israel. According to The Jerusalem Post, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah admitted that Hezbollah was holding the soldiers, and was refusing to allow the International Red Cross into Lebanon to visit the soldiers. Nasrallah also told reporters that he wanted to trade the three IDF soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons.
On October 8, less than 18 hours after the ambush, UNIFIL troops attempted to remove the contents inside the vehicles and tow away the vehicles, both of which were found wrecked after the kidnappings. One Indian UNIFIL worker was videotaping the actions of his fellow troops removing the materials. At the end of the tape, there was some footage taken of armed Hezbollah fighters storming the area and intercepting the vehicles from the UNIFIL troops. The UNIFIL troops turned over the vehicles to the Hezbollah men to avoid an armed skirmish. Official UN workers now had in their possession a videotape that might have helped Israel in some way find its kidnapped soldiers.
However, for nearly a year, top UN officials, including Secretary General Kofi Annan, denied having any possession of such a videotape. But on July 6, 2001, the UN confessed that it did in fact possess the video shot by the Indian UNIFIL worker. The exact reasons for the UN coverup of tape are unknown, but there are some indications that the denial was intentional. Hezbollah did cross over the Israeli border in a UN patrolled area, implying that UNIFIL would have most likely known about the plot ahead of time but did nothing to stop it.
After the official UN confession, Annan ordered an investigation into the handling of the tape. UN undersecretary-General Joseph Connor produced an 18-page report which stated the UN actually had two more videotapes of the incident, as well as more than 50 items taken from the vehicles, several of which were covered in blood. While Connor did say that the UN was guilty in lapses of judgement regarding the tape, he did not go as far to say that the UN cooperated with Hezbollah or that the UN intentionally lied to Israel. Annan subsequently apologized to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, saying that “serious errors in judgment were made, in particular, by those who failed to convey information to the Israelis, which would have been helpful in an assessment of the condition of the three abducted soldiers.” The Connor report also included a statement from a UNIFIL officer saying that the kidnapped soldiers died from their wounds.
As for the actual tape, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer demanded that it be handed over to Israel, and condemned the UN for withholding evidence that may have helped the IDF track down the soldiers. The UN however, refused to give the tape to Israel, saying that it wanted to remain neutral in the region. Israel believed that the tape should have been given to them because the kidnapping amounted to an international crime, and that Israel was itself a UN member state who was attacked by a terrorist entity. The United States House of Representatives even adopted a resolution (411-4) demanding the UN give Israel the tape.
The UN finally allowed Israel to view the tape, but with certain conditions:
The UN said it placed these restrictions on Israel in order to maintain its neutrality on the issue. In the end, Israel agreed upon the UN conditions, including the editing of the tape.
The IDF pronounced the three soldiers dead on November 1, 2001. Their remains were returned to their families in a prisoner exchange on January 29, 2004.
Sources: “Israel and the United Nations: The Har Dov Kidnapping;” Lenny Ben-David, “Israeli Captives in Lebanon,” HonestReporting.com, (November 11, 2002).