Thursday, 2 December 2010

Exploiting the Crescent

Wikileaks is still undoubtedly the word of the week in international politics- with the the vast array of US correspondence published causing diplomatic headaches from Italy to North Korea. Whilst debate ranges over whether the site’s director Julian Assage should be commended or hunted down - most politicians, commentators and members of the public are all broadly agreeing on one thing: some serious issues have been thrown up by the documents.

Of course, many are trivial or even amusing (think Colonel Gaddafi’s blonde Ukrainian nurse) but others could have serious ramifications. Not least amongst these – though surprisingly under reported- are suggestions that the Iranian Government made use of the formally neutral Iranian Red Crescent Society, during conflicts in various states including Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain as well as the Balkans. Perhaps the most damning allegation is that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard used Red Crescent convoys to enter Lebanon –in possession of weapons and ammunition supplies – during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. That conflict cost the lives of almost 2000 Lebanese Civilians, over 40 Israeli civilians and over 50 others including foreigners and UN personal; it also left Lebanon in ruins, military losses on both sides and –perhaps most significantly – a bitter political aftermath that has resulted in tensions on the Lebanese boarder and threats of further clashes ever since. As well as potentially indicating a grave violation of the Geneva Contentions, the memos therefore have the additional effect of piling further grievances and antagonism onto an immensely damaging legacy.

Furthermore, the situation looks set to significantly hinder the actual humanitarian activities that Red Crescent societies carry out. Israeli authorities have long presented deliberate hindrances to these – particular those of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society whose ambulances have been delayed, denied access and even fired upon. Whether such actions stem from a genuine paranoia that the Red Crescent provides cover for militants, a malicious programme of oppression using this as an excuse, or a combination of both – is the subject of intense debate. What is clear however, is that regardless of the motive – supposed evidence that Iran used a Red Crescent Society to aid attacks on Israel –will only increase the official Israeli disruption of genuine Red Crescent humanitarian and relief work.

For this reason a prompt, thorough and transparent enquiry by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies –possibly in association with the UN or OIC- would greatly assist the various national societies, in addition to reigning-in some of the growing political tensions. Conclusive proof that the Iranian Red Crescent Society was not used for military action – or a comprehensive response including international prosecutions of those responsible if it transpires that it was – would primarily protect the integrity of Red Crescent Societies and resultantly leave the Israeli authorities with no veneer justification for impairing their work (potentially leaving anyone who does so liable for prosecution themselves).

In a region where humanitarian crises are regularly exacerbated by political manoeuvres – it would be a disaster for prominent, neutral and effective humanitarian organisations to be dragged into the fray (either in practice or in accusations) and further prevented from their vital duties. Immediate action is essential.

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