Government Looking to Set Int'l Rules for Fighting Terror

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Foreign, Justice and Defense ministries to prepare an international initiative that would see the laws governing warfare adjusted to combating terrorism.

Netanyahu would like to rally Western countries involved in the war on terror in formulating changes to the international law on warfare, so that it would be possible for countries to have enshrined in law their right to defend themselves against acts of terrorism.

At yesterday's cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that the goal is to "delegitimize the delegitimization of the State of Israel and the most important arena for doing so is among the public opinion in Western democracies. We must continue undermining this lie that is spreading with the help of the Goldstone report."

The UN report, released last month by jurist Richard Goldstone, condemned Israel's behavior against Gaza during Operation Cast Lead last winter.

"In Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and elsewhere, weapons are being piled up around us, whose sole purpose is to shoot at the citizens of the State of Israel. I want it to be clear. No one will hurt our right and our ability to defend our citizens," the prime minister vowed.

During the cabinet meeting, presentations were made by officials from the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council and Military Intelligence regarding the Goldstone report and its implications on Israel's international standing.

The cabinet assigned the justice minister the task of setting up a team that would deal with legal proceedings and suits being prepared abroad against senior Israeli officials and officers. The team will be set up in coordination with the attorney general, the state prosecutor, and the legal departments at the Defense and Foreign ministries.

A proposal that was briefly discussed during the cabinet meeting was for the establishment of an external committee of inquiry to investigate the events of Operation Cast Lead. The idea was backed by a number of ministers, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak led the opposition to the matter, and the discussion was cut off.

"There is no need for another investigation, the IDF and the defense establishment can investigate themselves and that should not be undermined," Barak said after the meeting.

Also strongly opposed to the suggestion was Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

The view of the defense establishment is that all the actions of the IDF and its goals during the Gaza operation were approved by the political leadership and were authorized by the attorney general, abrogating the need for further investigation.

Indicative of this position is the comment made by a senior member of the general staff earlier this week, who described the report as "very problematic. I think that we behaved property during Cast Lead. There may have been problems but these were exceptions. This report is also very troubling to senior officers in other Western armies. The report may tie all of our hands."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana that any progress on the legal proceedings related to the Goldstone report will block the possibility for any progress in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

President Shimon Peres, discussed the report with the American ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, yesterday. Rice said the United States would remain a loyal friend of Israel and expressed understanding of the war against terror that Israel had to wage, and the complexities of the effort.