The two explosives-packed containers washed up on Ashkelon and Ashdod beaches Monday, Feb. 1, did not blow up – unlike Israel's top military echelons, who were stunned by the exposure of two top Israeli field commanders in the account Jerusalem handed the UN secretary in defense of Israel's military against the one-sided Gaza war crimes allegations brought by Richard Goldstone.
The 46-page account named Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, chief of the Gaza division, and Col. Ilan Malka, former Givati commander, as having been disciplined for exceeding orders and hazarding lives by letting an UNWRA facility come under artillery fire during the three-week campaign against the Hamas more than a year ago. The IDF emphatically denied that phosphorus shells were used.
debkafile's military sources report that senior military officials, including the IDF spokesman, made a supreme effort to "kill" the story after it reached the media, but failed to cool the flames.
One unnamed general remarked: "The Jerusalem bureaucrat who named the two officers in the Israeli account to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon threw them to the wolves." Another said: "How can we be expected to lead our men in future battles when we don't know what awaits us during or even after the fighting is over?"
" We are used to state inquiry commissions and expect to face the music over possible derelictions from the IDF's stringent rules of engagement," said another. "But how can we fight with the international war crimes tribunal hanging over our heads, knowing it may be as loaded against us as Goldstone or other UN institutions?"
The bureaucrat who named the two officers is at the heart of the storm. His purpose was to prove that months before Goldstone came on the scene, the IDF had conducted a thorough and impartial inquiry into every claim of misconduct during the three-week Gaza campaign. Although the campaign was fought against terrorists using civilian locations, Israel had no agenda to harm innocents or damage civilian infrastructure, including the UN Works and Relief center in Gaza City.
However, the UN secretary may decide on a different reading, i.e. as grounds for prosecuting Brig. Eisenberg and Col. Malka and the men under their command as international war criminals. It be the first time in the IDF's history. Its high morality in combat has only ever been impugned by Palestinians, their anti-Israel backers and certain left-wing extremists.
UN officials are pointing the way to this outcome by picking the Israeli account to pieces and making sure to defeat its purpose. Ban Ki-moon may go all the way to this goal in view of his rocky relations with Israel.
Chris Gunness, a UN spokesman, told the media that half a dozen unexploded IDF shells were found in the UN compound and their serial numbers were traced to US factories. “The burning down of the UN compound in Gaza is massively symbolic,” he said.
UN officials argue that the use of white phosphorus caused millions of dollars in damage and could have led to a “great loss of life”.
In another part of its report, Israel says phosphorus was used, but only for "deploying a smoke screen to block the view of Hamas anti-tank crews deployed adjacent to the to the UN center, saving Israeli tank units from having to use reactive fire with the likelihood of greater civilian harm." Israel has indemnified the world organization for the damage caused in the exchange of fire.
Then, Tuesday, Feb. 2, another UN source told the London Guardian that the remains of a 500-pount Mk82 aircraft-dropped bomb had been found in the ruins of the al-Badr flour mill in northern Gaza. This contradicted the Israel report which said the building had been hit by tank shells as a "legitimate military target" because there were Hamas fighters "in the vicinity of the flour mill." Israel denied it was a pre-planned target and that it was hit by an air strike.
Goldstone has called the attack a war crime.
In the background of the Israel-UN hostilities lies a quiet argument going for weeks over whether or not to meet the world body's demand for Israel to appoint a state commission of independent civilian and judicial figures to investigate the allegations of war crimes Goldstone has brought against Israel and Hamas.
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu favors this step, but is challenged by defense minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazy, who refuse to recognize Goldstone's credentials.
Now that the IDF's findings naming names are in UN hands, Israel has lost control of the next stage of the controversy over the anti-Israeli bias of the South African ex-judge's report on the Gaza war. The world body now has a powerful tool for exercising its authority and taking it further up to and including the railroading of the two Israeli commanders.
This outcome could have been avoided had the prime minister exercised his authority for a clear decision.