Wary of Lawsuits, Israel Boosted International Law Training for Military Commanders in 2018

Army expands its activities to deal with possible legal action against soldiers and defense officials over clashes on the Gaza border

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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File photo: Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the Amari Palestinian refugee camp, West Bank, December 15, 2018.
File photo: Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the Amari Palestinian refugee camp, December 15, 2018.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Specially trained officers and reservists were placed in Israel Defense Forces field units last year to provide lectures and workshops on the legal ramifications of the IDF’s actions.

The move was prompted by weekly clashes between soldiers and Palestinians over the past year as well as by the International Criminal Court’s scrutiny of the IDF’s actions in the 2014 Gaza war.

According to a report recently published by the military advocate general, it has expanded its activities to deal with lawsuits expected to be filed against senior Israeli defense officials and soldiers who took part in clashes along the fence with the Gaza Strip.

“One of the main focuses of the department this year was legal advice on the IDF’s coping with the violent disturbances and terrorist activities on the border with the Gaza Strip,” stated a report by the military advocate general’s corps, summarizing its activities over the past year. The corps is responsible for implementing the rule of law within the IDF.

In 2018, the IDF’s military advocate general’s corps gave a total of 133 lectures to commanders on the significance of their actions in terms of international law, including maritime law and enforcement, and 40 lectures on the responsibility of commanders to various officials.

There were also four training seminars for officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel, which included workshops in which they practiced various scenarios to study the legal aspects of operations.

Officers and reservists from the military advocate general’s corps were assigned to units to provide comprehensive legal advice on the rules of war in 11 major exercises in 2018 and to focus on cooperation between combat units and the corps.

Software that allows commanders to learn more broadly and efficiently about international law in various situations has been distributed to soldiers and commanders in the corps and to combat forces in the field.

In addition the corps’ international law department has provided legal counsel over the past year to different branches of the General Staff, various commands and some of the divisions, on the use of force, operational plans, operational orders and instructions, rules of engagement and professional instructions on the use of certain weapons against threats.

The military prosecution is also responsible for reviewing investigations into events during the 2014 Gaza war ahead of a possible decision by the International Criminal Court to investigate these events, and for reviewing incidents along the Gaza border since March 2018. The military advocate general ordered a criminal investigation into 11 cases in which live fire is suspected of having been used in breach of the rules set by senior IDF officers.

The report notes that the corps gave legal advice on international law to the General Staff, the Northern and Southern Commands, the air force, the navy and the headquarters of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. The advice included “the legal aspects of plans and operational orders and the legality of intended targets.”

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