“Apparently Deliberate”

It is a great tragedy that a UN monitoring base in southern Lebanon was struck by the Israeli Air Force killing four UN “peacekeepers” inside (the term is a bit of a misnomer seeing as they have long been an impotent presence in the middle of a war zone). Within hours, Secretary General Kofi Annan called for an investigation into the “apparently deliberate targeting” of the UN observer force. I can understand Annan’s rage and the need to protect the sanctity of the blue helmet mystique. But his comments are a good bit premature, as they came before the smoke had even cleared over the bomb sight. Olmert, to his credit, expressed his remorse for the incident and promised a full and public investigation into how it came about.

But how to explain Kofi’s rash negative judgment against Israel?

He has long been calling for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire between parties and it must be frustrating to have that plea fall on deaf ears. And Israel, who is bringing most of the firepower to the battlefield, could do a great deal to de-escalate hostilities if they felt that was in their interest. True enough.

But more than that I think Annan’s outlook is shaped by an abiding sense of neutrality. To be sure, neutrality has its place in world affairs. And perhaps it should always have a home in the Secretary General’s office. But in this case – a struggle between a democracy and terrorist organization whose very existence undermines the golden principle of state sovereignty that lies at the core of the UN mission – neutralism is a species of anti-Israelism. Because it depends on the belief that it does not matter who wins, if both sides are more or less in the wrong. Therefore, to my mind, neutrality is morally unsustainable.

But more than that, it distorts one’s thinking. “Staying above the struggle is not a spiritual triumph; it is a spiritual collapse,” wrote Leon Wieseltier many years ago (sorry, no link). “It represents a loss of interest in some of the most fundamental questions of human existence.”

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