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UN Impeded Investigation of Hizballah Kidnapping of Israeli Soldiers

On October 7, 2000, Hezbollah forces illegally crossed the Israeli border with Lebanon through a UN patrolled area and kidnapped three Israel Defense Force soldiers, Adi Avitan, Binyamin Avraham, and Omar Souad. UNIFIL peacekeepers videotaped the incident; however, the United Nations denied possessing any such videotape for almost nine months. On July 6, 2001, The UN admitted, contrary to their earlier denials, that they had possession of the tape as of 18 hours after the incident occurred.

The Israeli government requested the tape to help investigate the incident and hopefully recover the soldiers. However, the United Nations refused to turn the tape over to Israel, citing a desire to maintain a neutral role in the region. Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer sent a strongly worded letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on July 8, 2001, calling the UN’s decision not to hand over the video "altogether puzzling and incongruous."[1] UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno responded by claiming that since "South Lebanon is a war zone," giving an unedited tape to Israel, “would be considered by one party as providing intelligence to another party and would certainly put in danger the security of our people in Lebanon."[2] Israeli officials pointed out that not only was Israel the victim in this kidnapping, but that the UNIFIL officials ought to have prevented the abduction in the first place, fulfilling their mandate as peacekeepers – it was their job to keep the area from becoming a war zone.

The UN, caught in its contradictions, was starting to face international criticism, especially in the United States. On July 30, 2001, by a 411-4 vote, Congress adopted a resolution calling on the UN to release the tape. On August 5, 2001, the UN admitted that they were also in possession of a second video pertaining to the investigation. With its credibility shattered, the United entered damage control mode. The UN publicly acknowledged that “serious errors of judgement 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.”[3] UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also apologized directly to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Finally, almost ten months after the kidnapping occurred, the UN agreed to allow Israel to look at an unedited version of the videotapes and to view items retrieved from the vehicles that UNIFIL forces removed from the scene. Rather than giving the tape directly to Israel, though, the UN decided place sharp restrictions on when and how Israel could view the tape, allowing Israeli officials to view the tape only three times, at neutral sites in Geneva and Austria. The UN also refused to turn over the aforementioned items, which were bloodstained personal belongings of the IDF soldiers and UN officials fervently denied the existence of a third tape, a tape that many Israeli officials claim may have offered the most direct and useful information.

Despite the lack of UN cooperation, the Israeli investigation continued and on November 1, 2001, based on new intelligence, Israeli army rabbi Israel Weiss pronounced the soldiers dead. Their remains have yet to be recovered.

[1] “DM Ben-Eliezer Responds to UN’s Refusal to Release Videotape.” Arutz Sheva, July 8, 2001.

[2] “UN, Israel Clash Over Videotape.” UN Wire, July 8, 2001.

[3] “UN Report Cites Misjudgments In Handling Of Videotape.” UN Wire, August 5, 2001.