Israel will consult legal advisers on future military action
The announcement that Israel will consult legal advisers before and during future conflicts suggests that Israel has undergone an internal assessment of the Gaza war and is hoping to improve conduct and preclude attempts at war-crimes charges.
After an overwhelming attack on Gaza by Israeli forces a year ago, the Israeli army was accused of contravening laws of war – including shelling of civilians with white phosphorus munitions, and destroying civil infrastructure like water purification and sewage plants, and even targeting a relatively remote egg farm that supplied much of Gaza.Skip to next paragraph
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Israel has insisted that the Israeli Defense Forces contravened no war-crimes laws in trying to stop Hamas missile attacks in its "Operation Cast Lead," as the war was called -- and it has refused the kind of self-review needed to block prosecutions of war crimes, either by third-party national courts or the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.
Yet a new directive by Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashenazi, ordering future military operations to be attended by legal advisers, suggests that Israel has undergone some kind of internal assessment of the war, and is attempting either to improve conduct in future military operations or preclude future attempts at war-crimes charges.
“New rules suggest that Israel is trying to show, under the principle of command responsibility, that military leaders under battle are aware of their responsibility, and that subordinate soldiers are aware of principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions,” says Mark Ellis, director of the International Bar Association in London. “I applaud the step toward responsibility, though it would not create immunity for Gaza."
The announced policy comes at a time when Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister during the Gaza operation, recently canceled plans to visit London following issuance of an arrest warrant by a British court, which used the legal claim of “universal jurisdiction” to prosecute war crimes. And last week, fearing arrest warrants in Great Britain, several Israeli military officers canceled a trip when British authorities said they could not guarantee the officers would not be arrested.
Legal advisers would be consulted during battle
Under the new rules, the Israeli army would consult legal advisers not only during planning stages, which Israel says it did ahead of Gaza last year, but also during battle.