PATROL BASE KHIAM, SOUTHERN LEBANON.
JULY 25, 2006, 19:10 LOCAL
Two nights ago Wolf dreamed he would die in this bunker. He dreamed he was going to burn as the metre-thick concrete walls collapsed on top of him. And though he was now calm, Wolf was still pretty sure he was going to die and nothing happening at the moment could have changed his mind. The shells and bombs were right on target; the last wave had landed inside the small white UN compound and blew the door off the underground bunker, the last refuge of the four peacekeepers now under siege. Across Lebanon and across the world responsible people were trying to stop the attack: “You’re killing my people,” they yelled into phones and radio handsets. They were trying to save Wolf but something had begun and it wouldn’t be stopped so easily. Wolf tried to call his wife in Kingston, Ont.; the phone rang but all she heard was static. “I love you. I love you,” she yelled into the static. The peacekeepers called for help but there was no help. They were alone, trapped and unarmed in the middle of a Middle Eastern war zone, supervising a truce that didn’t exist on a mission that didn’t make sense.
This is the story of how Wolf–Canadian Army Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener—came to be in that bunker and who killed him and why, which remains an unanswered question. It is also the story of the world’s oldest peacekeeping mission, the lost organization in charge of that mission and the failed dream behind it all.
ISRAELI LEBANON BORDER.
JULY 12, 2006, 09:05 LOCAL
Israel’s wildest and most destructive conflict of the last few decades had begun earlier that morning when Israeli army First Lieutenant Nir Leon identified a “red touch” along the high-tech fence separating him from the angry Islamic militants on the Lebanese side of the border. Someone or something had physically touched the fence and this was almost never good.
The international terrorist organization known as Hezbollah—the particular Islamic militants in question here—had been so brazen the past few months that Israeli intelligence was certain the group was about to attempt a cross-border abduction of Israeli soldiers. Because it’s been attempted so many times, the Israelis have a specific codeword for such an attack: “Hannibal.”
At just after 09:00 that morning a patrol of two Humvee army vehicles crept up to the area where the “red touch” was recorded, and Hezbollah were waiting.
It wasn’t much of a fight. The terrorists were hiding in the underbrush and attacked at close range with machine guns and anti-tank rockets. Three of the seven Israeli soldiers were killed outright, two were wounded as they dove from their truck and two—First Sergeant Ehud “Udi” Goldwasser, 30, and Sergeant First Class Eldad Regev, 25—were taken.
Israeli reinforcements soon reached the site of the attack, but it was too late. Hezbollah had disappeared back into Lebanon and their sharpshooters had taken out surveillance cameras along the border.
The Israeli patrol leader yelled into his radio, “Hannibal. Hannibal”—essentially a cry of war.1 Less than two hours later, the first Israeli tank crossed the border.
1 In a diabolical twist, it turned out the two Israeli soldiers abducted on July 12 weren’t really abducted, technically, because they were reportedly already dead. Their bodies were certainly taken though. Which means there was no “Hannibal,” there was just a war.
A few kilometres away, Wolf and his fellow observer, Irish Commandant Pat Dillon, were out patrolling in their jeep when their radio sparked to life. “All UN patrols go to the nearest patrol base immediately,” the radio barked. “There has been an incident on the border.”
Wolf and Dillon took off for the safety of their big concrete bunker at Patrol Base Khiam. By the time they arrived, several other members of Team Sierra were already there—Finnish Lieutenant Jarno Mäkinen, Chinese Major Du Zhaoyu and Australian Major Matina Jewell.
Wolf at War
It might seem a bit strange, but Wolf was pretty damn excited by the outbreak of war. He was a 44-year-old career soldier of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, a paratrooper, Special Forces qualified by the famed U.S. unit known as the Green Berets. He had a huge moustache and heavy muscles and what often seemed like unlimited reserves of aggression and energy; one of his closest friends likes to describe him as a “real-life action figure.” Wolf was one of the fearless ones.2
2 His name wasn’t really Wolf. He was born “Peter Hess” in London, Ont., in 1962 and he grew up in Sudbury, delivering papers and playing hockey and getting into all sorts of trouble. He changed his name at the request of his grandmother, the matriarch of the von Kruedener family, a clan of German-Russian nobility. And so Peter Hess became Paeta Hess-von Kruedener. But the only person who ever really called him Paeta was his wife Cynthia.
And now Wolf was here in Lebanon, taking part in the world’s oldest peacekeeping mission. The UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) stood up in the early days of the United Nations, during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. UNTSO’s mission is to supervise the often non-existent truce between Israel and its Arab neighbours: Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Jordan. It’s actually hard to count the exact number of wars and assorted truce violations UNTSO has failed to prevent, there have literally been so many. And the peacekeepers themselves have often paid the price. Way back in the spring of 1948 the first UNTSO chief—a Swedish nobleman named Count Folke Bernadotte—took his post but after just a few months was assassinated by Israeli extremists, setting the tone for the mission’s next 64 years.
A few hours later, Wolf was standing on the observation platform at the squat concrete patrol base watching something truly hard to believe. Right in front of him—just a couple of metres away—a 1,000-pound bomb was gliding past.
It was only a few hours after Hannibal was declared and Israeli fighter jets were in the air hammering every single Hezbollah position in Southern Lebanon, including a couple of buildings and bunker complexes on the edge of the village of El Khiam, within about 75 metres of where Wolf and a couple of his teammates were standing.
The village of El Khiam sits atop a long, low ridge, within sight of Israel. In the near distance the lights of Israeli military positions can be seen along the border and high atop Mount Dov to the east. The people of El Khiam do not call Mount Dov by that name though, not at all. The residents are almost exclusively Shia’a Muslims, which by consequence makes the place a de facto Hezbollah stronghold. They call it the mountainous area “Sha’aba Farms” and consider it Lebanese territory.
Wolf threw himself onto the wooden decking seconds before the bomb hit its target, less than a half a soccer field away. The blast was shockingly loud, the air filled with shrapnel and fire. The peacekeepers were flung across the platform. Wolf was flat on the deck, his Canadian desert combat uniform covered in debris. The others were stunned but Wolf was up. “Bunker. Bunker,” he yelled. He could see another F-16 coming in on a run. “Go. Go. Go,” he screamed.
They didn’t make it in time. The second jet was just metres overhead; it had caught them in the open. Wolf was on the ladder trying to get down to the bunker. But the jet didn’t kill them; it merely rained flares down on them as it was trying to draw Hezbollah fire.
Once inside the bunker, Wolf called the UN duty officer to get him to tell the Israelis that the attack was too close. The UN peacekeeper field manual states that a 1,000-pound bomb landing anywhere inside of 1,000 metres is “firing close” and considered to be endangering peacekeepers’ lives.
This was just the beginning. Over the next 13 days, Wolf and his comrades would log 52 incidents of “firing close” and six3 incidents of direct hits—“firing in.”
3 Actually it was seven incidents of “firing in,” but the seventh one went unlogged, for reasons which will become very clear.
This wasn’t a small skirmish, or limited retaliation, it was an attempt by Israel to destroy Hezbollah. In that attempt they became extremely destructive and ruthless. They employed a tactic of near-saturation bombing, destroying hundreds upon hundreds of homes and killing more than a thousand civilians.
Wolf and his team were right in the heart of it, standing on their platform at Patrol Base Khiam, charting each truce violation and each breach of the Geneva Convention as it happened.
In an email Wolf sent to his wife Cynthia, he laid out the situation.
“It looks like it will be another beautiful day here in paradise, forecast is for 32ºC with a dash of explosive artillery and a hint of aerial bombing. A winning combination for any tropical destination. If I could only market this shit, people would be lining up at the airport…wait they are lining up at the airport (but to get the fuck out). There has been a lot of civilian casualties and deaths here,” he wrote. “It appears, from my military experience anyway, that with all the preparatory artillery shelling, the [Israelis] are setting the conditions for an invasion of Lebanon. No doubt given the situation here, and what has been coming out of Jerusalem, they are intent this time on crushing the Hezbollah.”
In the meantime, the constant near-misses weren’t the only problem facing Wolf and his team. There was no one in charge at Observer Group Lebanon headquarters. The three key positions there were vacant—the chief was stuck by the “code red” at another patrol base and the deputy chief and the operations officer were both on leave.
Patrol Base Khiam was running out of food and water. Wolf worried that if the Israelis invaded they would be really stuck and so now was the time to get some food. While this meant breaking the “code red” order not to move, the team took a vote and while not unanimous Wolf got his way and he headed into town with Du and Jarno. The three peacekeepers made it to the village store with no problem. They knew the shopkeeper well, having been there many times. Moments after they left with their supplies, the shop was struck by Israeli artillery, killing everyone inside.
“It is disgusting what [the Israelis] are doing here,” Wolf wrote in an email to Cynthia. “Yesterday I witnessed an [Israeli] attack helicopter fire missiles at a local school and destroy a brand new hospital. These [guys] are trying to cripple and destroy the infrastructure of Lebanon. What this has to do with the Hezbollah terrorists I have no idea and cannot make the connection. I agree that the [Israelis] have the right to protect themselves, but they are indiscriminately bombing and targeting the civilian population and infrastructure, which is a fucking WAR CRIME under the Geneva Conventions.”
Meanwhile, there were growing concerns at the base about what they were still doing in Khiam. “As the war continued and the near misses to all of the UN bases along the border increased, I wondered why we had been left at our posts.We were unarmed peacekeepers whose mandated mission was to observe and monitor a peace agreement. There was now clearly no peace to keep,” Australian Major Matina Jewell would later write.
As it would turn out, Jewell was evacuated on July 17 alongside the Irishman Dillon, replaced by the team leader, Austrian Major Hans-Peter Lang.
SEPT. 28, 2012, 20:45 LOCAL
Kingston’s western suburbs seem about as far as it is possible to get from the ancient blood feuds and feral violence of the modern Middle East. In that fractured place the past infects every new moment and history is a weapon that compels nightly battles and makes the future feel unimportant. Here the nights are calm and the wide untroubled roads and soft lamp-lit grass are all about the future, about gymnastics practice and soccer tryouts and the endless potential of things young and strong.
I’m driving along Front Road with Lake Ontario in the darkness to my left and a subdued Cynthia Hess-von Kruedener talking quietly in the seat to my right. If I had to guess, I would say Cynthia is in her mid-forties now. She is a charmer; blond, blue-eyed, healthy and strong. Only her voice gives away what her past few years must have been like. Cynthia often sounds very far away even when she’s right beside you and her tone has that special kind of immunity granted only to those who’ve endured crushing pain—the fireless calm of someone who’s lost more than they had.
Paeta is officially a martyr, the Lebanese have said so and produced a certificate to authenticate it and this is what we’re talking about now. Specifically, we’re discussing the controversial details of Islamic martyrdom, as we understand it, that Paeta in the afterlife will be surrounded by 72 virgins. But we’re both unsure how it would technically work, seeing as Paeta wasn’t a Muslim and so maybe he wouldn’t get all the rewards, exactly. “I kind of hope there’s a mistake somewhere and he gets Virginians instead of virgins,” she laughs softly, looking out her side window at the passing houses.
Earlier in the evening we’d sat in a fancy Italian restaurant in downtown Kingston and ate Caesar salads and talked about war and nicknames4 and the legal definition of murder.
4 Paeta had several nicknames, Cynthia tells me. His daughter Kirsten referred to him as a tiger, for example. But her best guess about where “Wolf” orginally came from is that he used to toss meat up and then catch it in his teeth. But she thinks it stuck because he really was like a wolf. If you ask Paeta’s friend Major Lindsay Reinelt where the nickname Wolf came from, he just gives a sly laugh and says, clearly amused, “He probably gave it to himself.”
Cynthia was with Paeta for 15 years, married for nine and when she talks about what she experienced in the first years after his death it’s like she’s talking about someone else.
Paeta was buried in August 2006 and Cynthia went back to work at the bank in September. She would cry all the way to work and all the way home. Eventually, she would give up working for a time to focus on getting things together, but in that first year there were some serious struggles. Cynthia’s son Jonah and Paeta’s daughter Kirsten—both from previous relationships—were teenagers who still needed a mother.
“My kids, they didn’t want to be in the house,” she says. “I didn’t want to be near them. I couldn’t put up a Christmas tree, didn’t bother celebrating Christmas. That first year I remember some things, but I don’t remember a lot. I had no strength really to even get up and do things. I couldn’t even put my attention toward my son…I don’t know how families do it because you’re just trying to survive and you can’t even help your family members.”
Wherever she went she found memories of Paeta, whatever she watched reminded her of him. “It was freaking hell,” she says. “It still is.”
After dinner I drive Cynthia home because she wants me to come in and see the room upstairs that she calls the shrine. I guess you could say it’s where Paeta lives now.
And that’s where I got to see, sure enough, the certificate in Arabic with Islamic green flourishes, indicating that Paeta is officially a martyr.
All of Paeta’s awards are arrayed on the walls and shelves, pictures are everywhere and every news story is catalogued. Cynthia shows me every item and she takes many of them down to see them up close. She holds onto one award for a bit longer: it’s the plaque the Ontario government gave her to recognize Paeta’s death.
OCT. 19, 2012, 15:45 LOCAL
I’ve come to Lebanon to visit Patrol Base Khiam and retrace Wolf’s footsteps, and much like him I’ve wandered into some sort of war.
The urban heart of Beirut is deceptive. There are Starbucks and gourmet burger joints and even a place called Lord of Wings that serves “Quebecoise Poutine,” but there are also car bombs and assassinations and general mayhem. I was walking down Hamra Street looking for some batteries and admiring all the fashionable people when a blast shook the city.
It was a car bomb, assassinating Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan, one of the country’s most powerful men, an intelligence chief with a long record of opposing Hezbollah.
I came in off the street and went up to the Crowne Plaza’s 19th floor executive lounge to watch the drama unfold.
“Yes,” said Gattas, the lounge’s thoughtful attendant as we both looked out the window at the black cloud lingering a few thousand metres away. “It’s bad but it’s not a problem for us. That’s over there, in Ashrafiya, we are fine here in Hamra. They would not do that here. It’s fine here.”
I looked at him sideways. It was maybe a couple of kilometres max and hard to understand his confidence. But anyway, first things first: “They? Who did it?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he shrugs like it doesn’t matter.
While the approach to violence in this part of the world is unusual—kind of like the way a Canadian will talk about bad weather: something to keep your eye on but nothing to get excited about—it really did matter who killed al-Hassan. It mattered to the thousands of sectarian hooligans now tooling up to head onto the streets to participate in the ritualistic post-assassination insurrection. With neighbouring Syria all mired in its own civil war, and Hezbollah being tightly allied to Syria’s slick-suited tyrant Bashar al-Assad, the good betting money for who killed al-Hassan was on Hezbollah. And since Hezbollah also comprises a significant portion of Lebanon’s government, the whole place was instantly threatening to go berserk.
But I wasn’t here for this war, I was here for the last war, and I still had to get myself a couple of hours drive south through the roadblocks and black-masked rebels to Khiam and the Israeli border.
The Litani River is the demarcation line between “normal” Southern Lebanon and the border area, a place Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs will advise you is just as dangerous as IED-laced Kandahar Province or pirate-infested Somalia. Oddly enough, it’s the most peaceful area of Lebanon I saw during my visit. But, as my guide told me, it can go from bird-chirping pastoral calm to run-for-your-life total war in about 25 minutes, as it did back in 2006, for example.
For visitors, getting past the checkpoints at the Litani can be difficult. In my case it wasn’t until after we got through the checkpoint that my driver told me the guards kept asking what I was doing here and what my job was. The answer he gave was that I was a friend of a Canadian guy who died and I sold cars for a living. I just looked out the window. If one of the guards questioned me for even 30 seconds we both would have been in a terrible situation because while my driver’s cover story may have been necessary, I didn’t know a thing about it. “OK, we’re lucky that worked,” I told him, “but we should try not to tell any more lies.” He nodded slowly and looked at me like I was a toddler.
Once you pass the Litani you are in another kind of world. The roads are narrow and broken and they wind circuitously through the barren hills. Beside the road there are occasional advertisements, some of which are not normal or good. They all share the same format—modern steel pedestals holding up large billboards—and while some of them advertise banks with low 2.5 per cent interest rates or high-end Italian kitchen appliances, a great many present the dour faces of young Lebanese men who died along the road in suicide operations against the Israeli army and who are now enjoying the hypothetical rewards of martydom. The billboards almost always list the number of Israelis who died and end with some religious exhortations to thrill the ardent.
As I found out, wise people do not rashly bring out their cameras in this area of Lebanon. “No!” my driver shouted when I grabbed my camera from the bag and took a picture of a particularly ghoulish martydom advertisement.5
“No! No pictures!” he said and tried to push my camera down. “But there’s no other cars,” I said, “No one around.” He nodded his head at the hills and pursed his lips at me like I was being dumb again. Apparently, the Party of God was watching6.
6 Hezbollah means ‘Party of God’ in Arabic.
While clearly good at tactical concealment, there’s no doubt what Hezbollah are all about. The facts are clear: the Canadian and U.S. governments both consider them to be a terrorist organization—think al-Qaida without the “attack America” quotient—and they certainly have the credentials for it. Consider the sheer fanaticism of their founding manifesto: “We see in Israel the vanguard of the United States in our Islamic world…Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no ceasefire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.”
So, not much point negotiating with them then, it seems.
As for exactly how capable they are, well, prepare for a shock: they have more weapons and missiles than most small countries. They have about 50,000 missiles of every kind: anti-tank, long-range, surface-to-air, short-range and anti-ship. Somewhat incredibly, they also have drones—one of which the Israelis shot down this summer.
So while Hezbollah may sometimes pretend to be defenders of the Lebanese state, it’s clear they’d be more interested in war with Israel than peace. Which, of course, makes it kind of strange that the UN is trying to supervise an evidently impossible truce between them and Israel.
In any event, I was now in southern Lebanon—Hezbollah-controlled territory—and about to eat lunch at Wolf’s favourite restaurant.
PATROL BASE KHIAM / KINGSTON, ONT.
JULY 25, 2006
Since the early 1970s Patrol Base Khiam had sat out in the open at the southern edge of El Khiam, overlooking Israel. It was a square squat concrete compound, painted stark white, emblazoned with “UN” in huge black block letters. And if it looked like a bunker, that’s because it was a bunker.
Wolf had great confidence that it was a good bunker, one that could by design repel nearly anything. It was situated well underground and had four small rooms, including the operations room stocked with communications gear. Because of the bunker’s safety, Wolf and his fellow observers had managed to endure the war with considerable spirit. Until today.
The first barrage of artillery shells and guided bombs started at 12:11 and right away they all knew something wasn’t right. In the past, incidents of firing close had always been bombs or shells or missiles intended for nearby Hezbollah positions that missed their target. But now, there were no Hezbollah targets within hundreds of metres.
The four peacekeepers sheltered in the underground bunker began furiously radioing for help.
In the early afternoon—from 14:18 to 14:49—there was a second barrage. This triggered a wave of protests that rippled all the way up the UN chain of command to UN deputy secretary general Mark Malloch Brown, who called the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, several times to lodge official protests.
It didn’t help.
Wolf wasn’t a superstitious man, but he had dreamed this was going to happen. The morning before, Team Sierra interpreter Elias had gone to wake Wolf up for his shift.7
7 The name Elias is a pseudonym.
Elias shook him a couple of times and he didn’t respond. Finally Wolf woke up but gave Elias a strange look.
“Sorry man, if I disturbed you,” Elias said, “but it’s 05:30 you have to make breakfast.”
Elias walked back into the operations room and sat down at the computer. Wolf came in still in his underwear. He sat down in front of Elias, very quiet. “What’s wrong with you?” Elias asked.
“You woke me up from a fucking nightmare, Elias,” Wolf said. “I was getting burned inside the base. I was about to die. I could feel the fire eating my body.”
Back in Kingston, it was Cynthia’s day off and she was waiting for Wolf to call as he normally did. In preparation, she’d gone out to buy new batteries for her cordless phone because she was afraid she’d miss his call.
At 18:29 the third wave of the attack hit the patrol base. Twelve 155-mm artillery rounds landed within metres of the base and four landed directly inside the compound, destroying most of the buildings above ground and blowing the door off the underground bunker. At this point General Alain Pellegrini, the man in charge of UN operations in Lebanon, called the Israeli liaison officer and shouted at him, no holds barred, “You are killing my people.”8
8 Board of Inquiry (pg. 21)- Death of Major Hess-von Kruedener (Nov. 1, 2006).
With the bunker now compromised, the four peacekeepers urgently requested evacuation. And while their wish was granted, it wasn’t scheduled until 07:00 the next morning.
At about 12:10 Kingston time—19:10 in Lebanon—Cynthia’s phone rang. It was Wolf. “Paeta I can’t hear you, there’s static, but I love you, if you can hear me I love you. Are you all right? I’m going to have to hang up because I want you to call me back because all I can hear is static, but I don’t want to hang up. I love you. I’ve got to hang up.”
A few minutes later, at just before 19:30, an Israeli F-16 pilot managed to do what so many other pilots and gunners failed to do that day—he dropped his 1,000-pound GPS-guided JDAM inside the compound, inside the blown-off door of the stout little underground bunker. It exploded in the front room beside Jarno. All they ever found of Jarno was a piece of his hip.
Wolf was discovered in one of the back rooms alongside the bodies of Gwynn and Ghajar, the base’s adopted dogs. They hated the sound of the bombs and frequently got scared and Wolf would often sit with them, trying to calm them down. He died there.9
9 And so did these men: Major Hans-Peter Lang, 44, from Styria, Austria, survived by an 11-year-old son and his 70-year old mother; Lieutenant Senior Grade Jarno Mäkinen, 29, from Kaarina, Finland, survived by his mother, father and partner; Major (posthumously promoted Lieutenant Colonel) Du Zhaoyu, 34, from Jinan, People’s Republic of China, survived by his wife and one-year-old son.
In Kingston, Cynthia was walking around with the phone in her hand waiting for Wolf to call back. She turned on the TV just before dinner and the first thing she saw was a picture of Wolf on the news with the caption: “Missing, presumed dead.”
Having clear and direct information about what had happened the day before, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan did not shy away from the truth in his first official statement on the killing.
“I am shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of a United Nations observer post in southern Lebanon,” said Annan. “This co-ordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked United Nations post at Khiam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that United Nations positions would be spared Israeli fire.”
There seemed more worldwide debate about whether Annan’s remarks were appropriate than about the four dead peacekeepers.10
10 Though of course there was quite a bit of concern about that as well. The Finnish said the attack had “no justification,” the Chinese “strongly condemn[ed]” it and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wondered why Patrol Base Khiam had “remained manned during what is now, more or less, a war.”
Many commentators simply blasted Annan without ever seeing the facts. Many believed the Israelis were actually trying to hit Hezbollah targets, but that wasn’t the case—there were no Hezbollah targets left there. In the face of this criticism, Annan backed down.
Much later it would turn out that Annan wasn’t wrong at all. Patrol Base Khiam was deliberately targeted. By their own admission, the Israelis were trying to blow it off the map. Why? Because it was on their targeting list.
The question of how and why it was on their targeting list has never been legally resolved. The Israelis claim it was a data-entry error—put on their target list by mistake. But they have prevented any organization or government from verifying that claim; including both the UN and the Canadian government.
The Board of Inquiry
On Nov. 1, 2006, Canada and the Department of National Defence finished their own investigation into Wolf’s death. Called a “Board of Inquiry” and headed by two military officers, the investigation was meant to provide an official explanation of the incident at Patrol Base Khiam.
After the board’s report was published it was subsequently removed from government websites for “security reasons.” If you want to read it now, you will be advised that you have to file an access to information request. I filed one, and was promptly sent a letter saying it couldn’t be released within the legally-allotted time.
I also filed a request for the UN report into Wolf’s death, which is in the annex of the government’s Board of Inquiry. I received another letter regarding that request: “Unfortunately, following a thorough and complete search for all records in response to your request, it is determined that no records could be located within the Department of National Defence.”
But it must be there—the UN report is in the annex of our official inquiry. Has this report vanished?
I don’t know. What I do know is that I was able to find a copy of the Nov. 1, 2006, Board of Inquiry report, in order to write this story. On Dec. 3, 72 hours after the magazine went to the printer, we received an official copy from DND. Here it is: www.legionmagazine.com/inquiry.pdf
In the report’s 67 pages there are no less than 62 discrete and pointed disclaimers about lack of access to evidence.11
11 For example: “The Board made efforts to obtain access to UN personnel…and documentation. [The UN] ultimately denied the request….this has limited the Board’s ability to make certain findings either partially or in their entirety.” (pg. 9) or “…the Board requested access to several individuals within the Israeli Defence Forces. The IDF did not grant access to these individuals…(pg. 9-10) or “It is important to note that the Board was hampered in its ability to assemble evidence for the facts related to this finding…[the details of the UN command, control and communications of the deceased’s mission].” (pg. 30)
The UN refused to answer questions or allow access to any of its employees. The Israelis refused access to individuals who were actors in the incident. The UN did agree to provide a copy of its own inquiry, whereas the Israelis delivered a “non-paper” summarizing its internal investigation.
Nonetheless, the Board of Inquiry states that Wolf’s death was preventable and blamed the Israeli Defence Forces “As an organization, the IDF is responsible for the death of Major Hess-von Kruedener.”12
12 “The Board was unable to determine if a specific individual within the IDF was to blame…as a result of the IDF decision to restrict the Board’s access to the relevant IDF personnel.” (pg. 20-21)
It went on to note that the “IDF has attributed the targeting of, and subsequent attack on PB Khiam to an operational error,” however, “The board was not in a position to verify the claim.”
The board concludes that while their ability to gather evidence was limited, they don’t think the lack of evidence affected their findings.
The president of the inquiry was Colonel Alain Boyer and the second officer was Major Jason Steeves. Requests for verbal interviews with them were not granted, though I did receive an e-mailed reply—via a communications adviser—from Steeves, who noted: “Internal to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, accessing information was not an issue. External to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, getting access to information was certainly more challenging. At times, information was less than forthcoming and sometimes not available at all.”13
13 The e-mail reply also said: “Given the sensitivities associated with the nature of the incident and associated information, it is quite understandable that the UN and the IDF were cautious about disclosing information from their investigations. However, I can say with confidence that with the information available, the Board was able to accomplish its tasks.”
The board report does seize upon the one huge question that remains—the attack on Patrol Base Khiam lasted nearly seven hours and during that time the Israelis received a blizzard of calls and protests all up and down the liaison network, from Wolf himself using the bunker’s radio handset to UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Lute working the phones.
“While the IDF has acknowledged the receipt of the protests from the UN, it has failed to explain why the attack was not halted,” the board writes. “Considering that on previous occasions the IDF had halted fires when protests were received, no indication has been offered as to why protests of this nature and severity did not result in the halting of fires. The ability of the IDF to halt fires on previous occasions, combined with the functioning on the UN side of the liaison network, and the ability of the IDF side of the liaison network to contact the implicated headquarters indicates there was sufficient time for appropriate information to have been transmitted to the appropriate IDF decision maker in order to halt fires on PB Khiam.”
In other words, the above paragraph says: the Israelis were told they were killing UN people; the Israelis admit they heard this warning and had proven in the past they could stop attacks if they wanted; we don’t know why they didn’t stop this attack.14
14 From the Board of Inquiry: “Unfortunately, due to the lack of access to IDF personnel and the limited information contained within the IDF Non-Paper, the Board was unable to ascertain why the IDF side of the liaison network could not deliver the necessary action in this particular case.” (pg. 52)
Meanwhile, at higher levels of government there was diplomacy. On Sept. 19, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, expressing his “deep regret over the death” of our soldier and Harper wrote back on Nov. 20, 2006, thanking Olmert for his “expression of condolences, for the Israeli government’s rapid investigation of the incident and for information provided to Canadian officials.”
This was all very gracious, but a bit absurd, considering the Israelis attacked a clearly marked UN base—killed a Canadian soldier—and then refused to even answer any questions about it.
OCT. 22, 2012
It’s after midnight in Beirut and my hotel room phone is ringing. It’s Elias, Wolf’s old interpreter. I’m supposed to be going back down south in a day or two to see more of the place and meet with a Canadian peacekeeper, but Elias lives down south and he’s called to tell me it might not be safe, the violence engulfing the country has spread and Elias says there are beatings and kidnappings, people getting dragged from their cars, nothing good.
We resolve to wait a day and see what happens. The next morning it seems calm but while I’m having coffee the news flashes that another person has been killed in a firefight in Beirut, bringing the total so far to 11 in three days. It’s hard to tell if it’s getting better or worse. The local newspaper headline reads: Army, gunmen clash in Beirut as fears of civil war rise.
Worse, I guess.
I decide to go south anyway. On the way, my local driver tells me how Lebanon is like a volcano, from a distance it’s nice to look at, but you have to be stupid to want to live on it because eventually…boom. He makes the sound of a long, low bad explosion. We both laugh awkwardly and look out the window at the young rebels in masks waving black al-Qaida flags.
I needed to go south to talk to Elias. He was the last person who saw Wolf alive and he knows the story better than almost anyone. The Canadian Board of Inquiry never spoke to him and never visited the site of the incident, and I wanted to do both.
Elias still works in the area. He’s strong looking, has lots of energy and his English is perfect. He drives me in his Jeep Cherokee up through the little village of El Khiam and out to the edge of town, where the base used to be.
We get out and walk around the memorial, just a couple of shell-blasted concrete barriers sitting on a barren ridgeline. Elias walks me down a bit further to the exact location of the base, where he himself spent nearly two weeks trapped with Wolf during the war. He tells me about Wolf’s nightmare and then about what happened later that day, on the night of the 24th. “At the end of the day, Wolf stepped in toward me and said, ‘You go. Don’t stay here. I don’t want you to stay here.’
“I felt like he gave me a chance. A chance to go. So I went. And so.”
And so he lived.
Now, Elias and I stand on the site of the base, looking around.
I can see two Israeli military positions very clearly—one high atop Mount Dov a few hundred metres east and one above the Israeli town of Matullah a few hundred metres south—and I realize then that the Israeli explanation—that it was a data-entry error—simply isn’t sufficient to explain what happened. It is hard to imagine that these Israeli military positions within line of sight on a clear day were not fully aware that a UN position was being targeted. It is one thing to believe that the Israelis mishandled the 10 or more official protests that day, or that the dozen or so fighter pilots who dropped bombs didn’t grasp they were attacking a UN position, but it is nearly impossible to believe that the static observation positions were unaware of the nature of the target.
Perhaps the Israeli command and control was so bad that no matter who reported a UN base was being hit, there was no way to get it off the targeting list. Or perhaps the Israelis decided that attacking the base was somehow necessary.
Several people I asked believe this is what happened, that it was not a mistake exactly, but a consequence of war. As to why, I couldn’t find the answer.15
15 There is no proven, or definitive answer. Hezbollah thinks the Israelis bombed the base to force an international push for an end to the war, which truly was going badly for the Israelis. Others theorized it was because the observers at PB Khiam had witnessed too much, reported too much. One soldier told me: “list a bunch of strategic, operational and tactical reasons and it’s probably all three.” The actual answer remains unknown today.
A Dream From Another Time
The UN began as one of the most noble and necessary ideas in human history—an organization of nations where leaders could gather to forge peace, defend human rights and “end the scourge of war.” It was a dream from the days just after the Second World War, an organization devoted to diplomacy and non-violence that would in time create peace on Earth.
Unfortunately, so far, the Earth has strongly resisted peace.
And the UN has many limitations, particularly where peacekeeping is concerned. Far too frequently, contingents of poorly-trained and under-resourced soldiers are sent to intervene in complex conflicts with mandates that are unrealistic or even absurd. The painful part is this: those limitations are not merely conceptual—people die because of them. And not just in Lebanon, but in Srebrenica, Rwanda and Darfur, to name a few notable places where local civilian populations paid a heavy price when they discovered that UN forces were not able to protect them.
Diplomat Louise Fréchette has probably had more experience at the UN than any other Canadian. She was Canada’s ambassador to the UN and spent eight years as UN deputy secretary-general.
For UN missions there should be a different definition of success, she argues. “If you define the success of peacekeeping mission as peace in the Middle East then there should be no peacekeeping. But success of missions in the Middle East is not whether there is peace in the Middle East. It doesn’t depend on that. How you have to assess effectiveness is whether or not the presence of peacekeepers keeps the situation from deteriorating further or breaking down. That is the only reasonable measure of so-called success.”
Not everyone would agree with her position. Some critics would say that in matters of life and death, where trillions of dollars and international stability are at stake, you might be obligated to aim for something bolder than merely preventing further deterioration. Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, for example, is one of those critics. “You measure results by measuring the results. Not by weighing best efforts. Not by counting good intentions. Not by calculating inputs,” Baird told the UN itself during his speech there on Oct. 1, 2012.
Meanwhile, any talk of results would be rebuked by Fréchette. “A peacekeeping mission cannot force agreement between people who disagree,” she said. “A peacekeeping mission is a tool to appease tension, it’s not a substitute for agreement among the parties. And in the Middle East the parties don’t agree. They haven’t agreed for 60 years and despite every effort, God knows how many peace negotiations there have been, there is no agreement.”
And so the problem is this: if a peacekeeping mission has no chance of creating peace because it has no ability to create agreement between warring parties, then it’s clear the system needs to change. There is no point pretending to solve problems if you haven’t mustered the resources to actually solve them. “This organization is not a goal; it is merely the means to accomplish goals,” said Baird, who also did not agree to be interviewed for this article.
PATROL BASE EAST, SOUTHERN LEBANON.
OCT. 23, 2012
If it all kicks off again in Lebanon, Major Richard Little, 42, is the Canadian who’s going to witness it. He’s a military observer living just down the road from where PB Khiam once was, and he’s here, much like Wolf, for a one-year tour of duty.
Since PB Khiam was never rebuilt, Team Sierra now lives in a large sprawling base deep inside a canyon. Little is a thoroughly Canadian artillery officer, self-deprecating and affable.
Because UN insurance regulations forbade me from going on patrol with Little, I instead watched him prepare meatloaf for his team dinner inside the little kitchen trailer. At this point in the tour, “every day here is a Monday,” and “it is what it is,” are currently vying for supremacy as Little’s favourite sayings.
Little’s daily routine is to go out in his white truck and drive up and down the border, watching for violations of the truce. Should he see one, he logs it and reports it. It can be anything from a goat-herder wandering too close to the border to, well, an act of war.
In the time since Wolf was killed, it seems the organization has learned quite a bit. The war in 2006 made it obvious that the UN lacks effective protocols for extreme situations. It is a bureaucracy and if it stumbles into something for which it has no plan, no process, then it is instantly and sometimes fatally paralyzed. Now though, things are different: “Once the shooting starts, our job is done,” said Little.
They also learned from 2006 that it’s not a good idea to transmit exact locations of strikes in relation to their UN position.
For Little, who is after all risking his life by being here, there is some merit to the role the UN is playing in Southern Lebanon. “It’s unfortunate people here don’t think of [whether] the Israelis will attack, it’s when the Israelis will attack,” he said. “So people do get worried, and the calming presence of seeing a white vehicle with a blue beret sticking out of it is sometimes enough for them to think, ‘OK, we’re not alone.’16
16 In the end though, having visited the mission, it’s hard to see how the UN can consider itself a force for stability in Lebanon when it stands by as Hezbollah amasses an unbelievable stockpile of weapons and turns southern Lebanon into a fortress. It’s no wonder the Israelis have such disdain for the UN as, from their perspective at least, all the UN is really doing is acting as international human shields while the world’s most heavily equipped terrorist organization plots and prepares for the obliteration of the Israeli state. “Hezbollah needs us,” Little told me. “If we weren’t here I don’t think Hezbollah would be either.”
A Handful of Dust
I’m no expert on loss and grieving, but I have observed that some people speak of the dead as if they’re not really dead, as if they’re waiting at a pub around the corner or on vacation in Cuba or something. Elias speaks of Wolf that way, especially when he tells stories of Wolf’s shenanigans, like the time he had a near-fatal testosterone-fuelled-showdown with a Hezbollah fighter.
Elias and Wolf were on patrol near the border before the war when Wolf decided to ask a Hezbollah fighter a few questions. It quickly turned into a faceoff between unarmed Wolf and a young fighter clutching his AK-47.
“He looked at me, the Hezbollah guy,” says Elias, “and he said ‘listen, if you don’t get him out of my face it’s not going to take me anything to just press the trigger and he’s gone. I don’t give a damn, nobody’s going to ask me why I killed him.’ I spoke to Wolf, I said ‘listen, you’re not Lebanese, you’re not Israeli, you’re Canadian. You’ve got nothing to do with this conflict. You’re gonna lose, your wife is gonna lose, your kids are gonna lose, your country is gonna lose.”
Wolf decided Elias was right and they walked away together. Moments later, an Israeli soldier on the other side of the border aimed his laser-equipped rifle at Wolf’s chest, the little red dot dancing over his heart. “[Wolf] looked at me and he said ‘Fuck! What the fuck is this guy doing?’”
“And I was like see? Both sides now, they don’t care about you. You are the sandbag. You’re the sandbag in front of them, for Hezbollah and for the Israelis and if they don’t want to take the attack, they’ll put you in front, they’ll let you pay the price, they don’t give a damn about you.”
“And he paid the price. He paid the price,” Elias said.17
17 One of Wolf’s best friends was a guy named Major Lindsay Reinelt, they roomed together in the Congo and worked together in Kingston. I had a question I wanted answered and I thought he might be the only person who could do it. What would Wolf have thought of his own death?
“He would have been marching to the sound of the guns, without a doubt,” said Reinelt. “He was totally dedicated to his profession, to his country, to whatever task he was given. So he would have been headed for the patrol base and he would actually probably have laughed at the announcement of his own death. And not a laugh of humour, but just almost joy, you know, because it was who he was.”
Sometimes Elias tells a story that reveals a bit about what he’s been through. A few years ago there was a memorial service on the old site of Patrol Base Khiam and some of the relatives came, including Jarno Mäkinen’s mother, Terttu.
She was this dignified Finnish lady, Elias says, short, brown-haired and well-dressed, very proper.
When Elias showed her the exact spot where they died, Jarno’s mom collapsed on her knees and started digging at the ground with her hands. “My son walked here,” she was crying. “My son died here. My son.”
And she kept digging at the ground. “This was her boy, her only boy,” says Elias.
“The mayor was crying, the others were crying. And they didn’t even know Jarno.”
I think Elias was crying now, but he didn’t want me to see. “The mayor,” Elias says, “He’s pro-Hezbollah, he says they’re martyrs of Khiam; that their blood was shared with the people of Khiam.”
Elias looks around.
“These guys were murdered,” he says. “They mean a lot to me. They were the bravest I’ve ever seen. They stayed together and faced a lot of difficulties but at the end these guys are gone because someone decided they shouldn’t be there.”
He lost his life in the service of peace—that’s the official line.
But it tells you nothing you need to know. There was no peace and he didn’t lose his life—the language is wrong. He was killed. That’s what happened. He was killed in action and some questions remain.
Cynthia spent a long time after Paeta’s death trying to get answers about what happened to her husband.
What torments her is that she couldn’t find those answers—nothing was fully explained, no one was ever held accountable.
“My focus is solely on that one thing,” she says. “If you’re going to kill UN personnel who have no gun, who have nothing, then the UN needs to step in, they need to be protected. But the UN clearly has no power to do anything about that,” she says. “That’s what is proven, at least in this circumstance, that these acts can be committed and nothing is going to happen at all.”
And she is brave too, like her husband, she’s not afraid to say who she thinks is responsible for Paeta’s death. “I blame the man that made the decision to bomb that post,” she says. “And as it reads in the Board of Inquiry, that’s a person in a higher-up position in Israeli military or government.”
But while Cynthia wants that person held accountable, she knows it’s not going to change anything.
“I do not understand life,” says Cynthia. “It becomes increasingly difficult to understand.”
Epilogue: Blessed are the Peacemakers
Wolf was buried at the Woodland Cemetery in Burlington, Ont., on Aug. 11, 2006, at 2 p.m.
The pallbearers who carried his coffin were rigid and correct in their uniforms. His parents Gerry and Shirlee were there. So was Cynthia, his stepson Jonah and daughter Kirsten.
They laid a Canadian flag over his coffin. Later, Kirsten read a poem she wrote for her dad.
“They tell me The Tiger is dead but I still sense his magic,” she said.
“The Tiger is not dead. He has found a new home,” she said. “The Tiger now lives in my heart.”
Email the writer at: email@example.com
Email a letter to the editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org