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Former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon left New Zealand earlier this week, after an arrest warrant was issued against him there as a suspect in the commission of war crimes. After the retired general, who had been on a private visit to New Zealand, departed the country, the warrant was cancelled.

The warrant against Ya'alon had been issued on Monday, following a request by local attorneys on behalf of human rights organizations from New Zealand and other countries.

The warrant was based on the assassination of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh in the Gaza Strip in July 2002, shortly after Ya'alon took command as chief of staff. The air force bombed a structure in which Shehadeh was hiding, killing 13 civilians, including Shehadeh's wife and daughter.

In the past two years, both former defense minister Shaul Mofaz (also a former COS) and Major General (res.) Doron Almog, former GOC Southern Command, evaded arrest warrants brought against them in Britain, under similar circumstances.

Former commander of the Gaza Division Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi canceled plans to study in Britain out of concerns that human rights groups would seek his arrest too.

A number of human rights organizations and left-wing groups around the world have adopted a policy of trying to bring Israeli officers to trial, and Ya'alon is a prime target. Legal steps have been prepared against Israeli officers in a number of countries, and when the officers visit, the rights groups take action against them.

A Palestinian human rights group in the Gaza Strip that was involved in preparing the report on Shehadeh's assassination announced that on Monday, a district court judge in Auckland issued a warrant for Ya'alon's arrest. New Zealand police, however, sought the advice of the prosecutor, and the following day the state prosecutor instructed the court to rescind the arrest warrant. This was in spite of a previous statement by the judge that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient reasons for the issuing of a warrant against Ya'alon.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem acknowledged the affair and said that the embassy in Australia, which oversees Israel's diplomatic interests in New Zealand, is following developments.

Ya'alon was not available for comment.