The Israel Defense Forces high command has begun to make preparations for legal battles and anticipated war crimes charges in international forums in the wake of the nearly month-long campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported on Thursday.
Fearful of the growing international chorus demanding that IDF officers be tried for war crimes allegedly committed against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, senior military brass has ordered a comprehensive internal probe of the army’s actions during Operation Protective Edge.
Toward that end, the IDF has tasked Maj. General Noam Tibon to oversee the army’s internal assessments of the events. According to Israel Radio, the army will investigate some of the more notable events of the operation, including the Hamas attack on the armored personnel carrier which killed seven Israeli soldiers, the capture of infantry officer Hadar Goldin in Rafah and the subsequent use of the “Hannibal procedure” whereby the IDF uses increased firepower to prevent a situation in which one of its troops falls into the enemy’s captivity, and the Hamas attack on an army position in the southern Gaza Strip which killed five soldiers.
Israel Radio also reported that of the 84,000 reservists who were summoned for duty, 25,000 have been relieved. The remainder will be gradually sent home.
At least 1,800 Palestinians – at least half of them believed to be civilians – were killed and thousands more were wounded during the intense bombing and ground incursion which the government said was aimed to quell rocket fire into Israel and eliminate the threat of Hamas-built underground tunnels.
The images of dead Palestinian civilians that quickly went viral on social media during the operation placed Israel on the public relations defensive, with army spokespeople and politicians forced to explain to the international press how Israel was making every effort to avoid harming noncombatants.
The Foreign Ministry has not yet decided whether Israel should cooperate with a United Nations Human Rights Council commission that is expected to be set up in the coming days to investigate alleged war crimes in Gaza.
Senior diplomatic officials said that deliberations are currently underway in the ministry to decide whether Jerusalem should boycott this commission, as it did the Goldstone Commission in 2009, which found Israel guilty of war crimes for its actions during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Although one senior official in the ministry recommended that Israel not cooperate with the commission, as there is little chance Israel would get a fair hearing from the blatantly anti-Israel UNHRC, no final decision has been made, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has yet to weigh in.
Earlier this week Liberman, not known for possessing a great deal of confidence in the UN, surprised many by raising the idea of turning Gaza over to a UN mandate.
On July 24, the UNHRC meeting in Geneva voted to establish an inquiry committee to investigate Israel’s actions during Operation Protective Edge. Neither the composition of the committee, nor its mandate, has been established.
Israel has gone down this path before, and in April 2009, three months after Operation Cast Lead, decided not to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.