Ya’alon Reiterates Opposition to Criminal Probes of Wartime Operations

Such inquiries, defense minister says, undermine troops’ `fighting spirit.’

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alonCredit: Olivier Fitoussi
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon Tuesday doubled down on his opposition to criminal investigations of wartime operations, saying such probes would damage the army’s fighting spirit.

Military prosecutors are mulling whether to investigate an operation in the town of Rafah during the summer war in the Gaza Strip.

In that incident, known as Black Friday, Hamas violated a cease-fire with a raid that captured Lt. Hadar Goldin and killed two other soldiers.

The Givati Brigade employed extremely heavy fire during its search for the missing soldier, who was later declared dead.

Palestinians initially claimed that as many as 130 to 150 people, many of them civilians, were killed. The Israel Defense Forces says 41 Palestinians were killed.

Speaking during a tour of northern border communities yesterday, Ya’alon reiterated that while the prosecution should investigate crimes like looting and rape, it should not get involved in operational issues like how best to search for a captured soldier.

“I think I was very clear,” he said. “If someone, heaven forbid, looted, raped or opened fire in violation of the rules and the law, that’s the place to open a criminal investigation. Otherwise, it should be left to command-level inquiries.

“Crude intervention by the legal system into operational considerations undermines fighting spirit.”

Ya’alon stressed that the legal system shouldn’t be prevented from looking into “things that truly were criminal,” but “it should deal with those, not with issues that have no criminal element.”

On Monday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said the military prosecution would make its own decision on whether to investigate Black Friday, and that the army brass had nothing to say about the matter.

The statement, written on Weinstein’s behalf by a senior aide, attorney Oren Fono, was issued in response to a query by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel about Ya’alon’s previous remarks in the same vein.

Ya’alon also commented yesterday on another element of Fono’s letter to ACRI: a clarification of the Hannibal Procedure, which is supposed to be employed when a soldier is kidnapped and was apparently used on Black Friday. The procedure authorizes troops to use extremely heavy fire, even if this puts the captured soldier’s life at risk.

The army has long stressed that troops aren’t authorized to try to kill the abducted soldier, and Fono’s letter reiterated this. “It’s good that this has legal backing as well,” Ya’alon said of the clarification.

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