The killing of a Finner Camp based Defence Forces corporal serving with the United Nations in January 1987 prompted the Irish government to consider withdrawing from their Lebanon mission, state papers opened under the 30-year rule have revealed.
Cpl Dermot McLaughlin (33), from Sligo, who served with the 28th Infantry Battalion, which is otherwise based at Finner Camp in Donegal, was on duty in a UN observation post near the town of Brashit in southern Lebanon at 8.49pm on Saturday, January 10th, 1987.
He was killed when an Israeli tank shell hit the Unifil (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) post. Defence Forces sources have long viewed the incident as a deliberate, and unprovoked, attack by the Israelis, a view supported by a 19-page memorandum presented to government on January 19th, 1987, entitled Review of Irish Participation in Unifil.
The Irish Times reports that the Israeli tank that fired the fatal round was inside what was known as Charlie Compound, a place controlled by the so-called South Lebanon Army (SLA), an Israeli proxy inside Lebanon.
“There were no reports of hostile fire aimed at the compound and the Army does not believe that there were armed elements (ie Hizbullah or Amal guerrillas) in the vicinity when the attack occurred,” says the review.
It notes that about an hour before the post was attacked, an Israeli defence forces liaison officer had contacted Unifil claiming to have seen “suspicious movement close to the Irish Unifil post”.
“The Irish Unifil post indicated that there was no such movement near their post,” the review continues. “Despite this, firing subsequently commenced from the compound at the town of Brashit in the course of which one tank round hit the Irish Unifil position.
“Subsequently, a second tank round hit the Unifil post and detonated as a result of which Corporal McLaughlin received multiple injuries and died before being evacuated to hospital. The UN post was struck at the time of the incident by a third tank round; no casualties were caused as a consequence of this round.”
The review characterises the Israeli action as “a new departure” and charges “the indications are, moreover, that it was a deliberate and unprovoked attack”.
In support of this, the review says that the existence of the UN post was well established and well known, flared alerting the attacking tank were fired, the post was the only properly lit building in the area and the UN flag itself was illuminated by spotlight, the attacking tank was a “highly sophisticated one and was manned by Israeli personnel, not untrained SLA members”, and finally “there was no hostile fire at the time of the incident”.