Israel seeks Obama backing on Gaza probe
Netanyahu's message is that the Goldstone Commission report hinders the United States' war on terror.
Israel on Wednesday asked a number of senior members of the Obama administration to assist in curbing the international fallout from the Goldstone Commission report released this week, which accuses Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
The Foreign Ministry decided Wednesday to focus their efforts to combat the report's accusations on the United States, Russia and a few other members of the United Nations Security Council and the Human Rights Council that are involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Israeli message is that the Goldstone report threatens those countries because it makes the war on terror very difficult, and therefore efforts must be made to prevent it from being brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue Wednesday with U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, while Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon discussed it with U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other senior officials.
The international commission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and headed by Judge Richard Goldstone accuses Israel of war crimes, and is passing on its recommendations to the ICC in The Hague.
According to the report: "Some of the actions of the Government of Israel might justify a competent court finding that crimes against humanity have been committed," and "...the Mission finds that there have been a number of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law."
The Foreign Ministry has established a forum of legal experts to follow any lawsuits that could be filed as a result of the report and to prepare for a scenario in which a suit would be brought forward in The Hague.
Ayalon, who is on a working visit to the United States, began Tuesday to transmit messages to senior members of the U.S. administration and Congress on the need to object to the report. He noted that the same approach that was taken to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism needs to be taken regarding the Goldstone report.
President Shimon Peres Wednesday released a statement saying that the Goldstone report "made a mockery of history."
The Prime Minister's Office decided Wednesday that Peres would take the front lines in Israel's campaign against the report. Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would not express themselves publicly on the matter, but would engage in quiet diplomacy.
Senior Foreign Ministry officials said Wednesday that Israel's decision not to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission was the right one. They insisted this was the case, despite the fact that every Israeli who testified before the Goldstone Commission independently, like Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, had an impact on the report and Goldstone himself related to each of the Israeli testimonies.
"We knew the report was going to be harsh, but Goldstone surprised us with how harsh," a senior Foreign Ministry official said. "It just goes to show we were right not to cooperate. If we would have, we would have legitimized this scandal."
The 575-page report describes 36 specific cases in which the IDF ostensibly broke international laws. A great many of the cases were already investigated by the IDF following the operation, within the units that took part in the fighting and by five committees established by order of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. In most cases, the investigations determined that the soldiers acted according to orders as well as international law. However, it has not yet been decided whether to make public use of the material gathered by the IDF to refute the findings of the Goldstone panel, or to leave it as evidence in the event that suits are brought against specific Israel Defense Forces officers abroad.
The IDF and the Justice Ministry are concerned that the report will make it difficult for Israeli officers to travel abroad. A joint panel of the Justice Ministry, IDF and Foreign Ministry already has a team of legal experts that advise officers not to leave the country and in some cases has prevented them from visiting specific countries.
Every soldier and officer is required to undergo a security briefing before traveling abroad; over the past year, some officers who have participated in the fighting in Gaza, particularly if their names have appeared in the media, are required to undergo a special briefing.
Legal sources said that civilian experts are mainly involved in dealing with the issue, rather than the Military Advocate General's office.
Other than its participation in the joint panel, the IDF has officially declined to respond to the allegations in the Goldstone report. The army has decided to leave responses to criticism abroad of its actions to the Foreign Ministry.
Following Operation Cast Lead, Haaretz revealed a directive by the IDF not to publish the names and photos of battalion commanders who took part in the operation due to fear of legal reprisals against them. A few months later, the IDF reversed itself on the matter.
Israel is concerned that officers, and even senior government officials and ministers who were involved in approving the operation, would be at risk of being arrested in any country that is a signatory to the treaty recognizing the ICC in The Hague and is therefore obligated to respect its arrest warrants.
The authorities are particularly concerned about officers visiting countries that allow their legal systems "universal jurisdiction" - following complaints filed by private citizens or the initiatives of investigative judges - to try an individual suspected of war crimes in another country. Such countries include Britain, Belgium, Spain and Norway.
To date, there has only been one case of an IDF officer at risk of being tried in a foreign country - Maj. Gen. Doron Almog, former GOC Southern Command - who had to remain on board the plane when he flew to London and return to Israel for fear of being arrested, after a Palestinian group filed a suit against him for war crimes.