Former Military Advocate General Avichai Mendelblit on Friday publicly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to try right-wing extremist lawbreakers in military courts.
Speaking at the Israel Air Force Center in Herzliya, Mendelblit said: "If this is assigned to the army, it will be terrible. I do not think it is correct for the IDF to deal with civilians."
Answering a question on the legal difference between the West Bank and Israel, Mendelblit said that "it was decided that the IDF must not deal with Jewish settlements, even though it is the sovereign power. If a need arises, then the Shin Bet security services and the police [can deal with them], although from a legal point of view the military is able to handle it. But the significance will be very negative if this is done."
Mendelblit's statement is part of the broader view shared internally by the Military Advocate General's Office. Two weeks ago, Haaretz published MAG opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's initiative to try Jewish extremists in West Bank military courts.
The initiative follows a series of ideologically-motivated "price tag" acts of violence by settlers, including targeting IDF soldiers, breaking into a military base, and attacks on Palestinians and fire bombings of mosques.
Among the PM's additional measures were the right of soldiers to carry out arrests, impose administrative detentions, broader use of restraining orders, and an increase in budgets for police investigations in the West Bank.
During his lecture Mendelblit also commented on the legal issues the IDF has faced in recent years. Addressing the limit to actions that the army can take, he said, "Many things that I thought I could legally approve, for the Air Force chief or the air force, could not be ethically done. And this occurred on many occasions."
Responding to criticism that the IDF has become overly sensitive to the need to provide legal advice to its commanders during operations, Mendelblit said this is only done at the level of division commander. He noted that in the U.S., marine battalion commanders also receive legal advice.
"Lawyers will not manage the army," he continued. "They did not manage it and will not manage it. The commander can decide, 'I will not attack because it is not ethical to kill 20 babies in their beds.' If rockets strike a large number of people in central Israel, it is acceptable [legally]. At the start of the Second Lebanon War, there was such a case, which I thought was appropriate. It is the most complicated decision for a commander."
Mendelblit also commented on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the subsequent Goldstone Report and its impact on the battlefield. "No one wants to see dead children, Palestinian or Lebanese," he said. "It is very sad, but we do not need to initiate an investigation into everything."
"An excellent tool exists called an operation debriefing," he added.
"And if we find that they took a small child and asked him to open something so that it would kill him if it exploded, then that needs to be dealt with internally. More than 99 percent of the cases are fine. According to humanitarian law, every case must be investigated, but not by the MAG."
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