Netanyahu leaning toward probe into alleged Gaza war crimes
PM wants inquiry but defense ministry and IDF blocking investigation into deliberate targeting of civilians.
Defense officials have successfully resisted an attempt by the prime minister to launch an inquiry into the targeting of civilians by Israeli troops in Gaza - amid warnings from inside the government that skirting the issue will fail to satisfy the United Nations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made concerted efforts to persuade Defense Minister Ehud Barak to accept an Israeli investigation into civilian deaths during Israel's three-week Gaza offensive a year ago, senior aides on his staff said on Saturday.
But Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi have dug in their heels, refusing to yield authority to investigators from outside the defense establishment, officials said.
As a result, a report submitted by Israel to the UN secretary general on Friday made no mention of claims that Israel knowingly attacked noncombatants.
Senior Jerusalem officials now warn that Israel's response to the UN will not satisfy the international community and that eventually an examination committee that is outside the IDF will have to be appointed to investigate the military operation in the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu is inclined to accept the justice and foreign ministries' call for an extra-military inquiry into civilian deaths, aides say. The prime minister is apparently convinced that only an independent probe will convince the international community that Israel is serious about investigating alleged violations of the law of war.
For now, however, Netanyahu continues to bow to strong objections from Barak and Ashenazi, refusing to sanction an inquiry.
"The prime minister knows what he wants to do on this matter - but he does not want to bring the matter to the cabinet," a senior source close to Netanyahu said.
Sources say that Netanyahu managed to secure another week during which to convince Barak and Ashkenazi of his position. A final decision is expected on Friday, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to update the General Assembly on implementation of the Goldstone commission's findings.
Aides described the Israeli report submitted last Friday as the first stage. They said that Israel is now waiting for the response of the international community.
The view of the IDF and the Defense Ministry has been that Israel's response to the UN should stand as is, and that there is no need for the creation of an independent examination committee. However, sources close to the prime minister, and at the foreign and justice Ministries, believe that the result will be the opposite.
"We will wait a few days to see if we need to make further decisions," sources close to Netanyahu said.
There was very little that was new in the report sent Friday. Much of the response to the Secretary General explained the framework of the IDF investigations, the position of the Military Advocate General, as well as the civilian judicial system in Israel. The main argument was the at MAG is an independent body that does not answer to military hierarchy.
The report also described the investigations that were carried out with regards to allegations of war crimes. "To date," the Israeli report states, "the IDF has launched investigations into 150 separate incidents arising from the Gaza Operation. Of the 150 incidents, so far 36 have been referred for criminal investigation. Criminal investigators have taken statements from almost 100 Palestinian complainants and witnesses, along with approximately 500 IDF soldiers and commanders."
In addition, six special investigations were initiated by GOC Southern Command on the orders of Ashkenazi.