Turkish vessel 'Mavi Marmara'.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and seven other former and current government officials may be at risk of arrest if they step foot on Spanish soil over the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla affair after a judge drew up warrants at the end of last week.
Other officials who might face arrest include former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman; current and former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon and Ehud Barak, respectively; former interior minister Eli Yishai; former minister of intelligence Dan Meridor; minster without portfolio Benny Begin;
Together with Netanyahu, the officials make up the so called 'Forum of Seven," an ad-hoc committee of ministers that made key decisions on security issues at the time.
Former head of the Navy Eliezer Marom, the top IDF commander running the operation at the time, could also face arrest.
In response to the judge's order, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon said Saturday night, "We consider it to be a provocation. We are working with the Spanish authorities to get it canceled. We hope it will be over soon."
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Justice Ministry had not responded by press time.
In the 2010 incident, a group of human rights activists and a smaller group of IHH activists (which the quasi-government Turkel Commission Report identified as affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood) boarded several ships to try to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israel commandeered and stopped most of the ships without incident, yet when Israel Navy commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, IHH activists attacked them, leading to some commandos being wounded and, eventually, 10 deaths on the IHH side.
Turkey and many others in the international community accused Israel of war crimes and Spain is only the most recent of countries to go after Israeli officials.
Local proceedings in Turkey went to full trial, though they stalled after Netanyahu made a partial apology.
There were several efforts to arrest Israeli officials in England, though those efforts also stalled after the government amended the law to make it more difficult for individual judges to issue arrest warrants without state approval.
At the International Criminal Court, the Mavi Marmara incident has provoked intense controversy with ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda performing an initial investigation then deciding to close the case.
The Comoros Islands, who filed the complaint, appealed to the Pretrial Chamber which voted on a 2-1 split for Bensouda to reconsider her position, a decision upheld on a 3-2 split vote by the ICC Appeals Chamber.
Still many expect Bensouda to just close the case again on different grounds.
Further, Israel was cleared by the quasi Israeli-government-sponsored Turkel Commission and the UN-sponsored Palmer Report, which validated some of Israel’s narrative of fighting in self-defense or said there was not sufficient evidence to pursue Israel for war crimes, even as the Palmer Report said some of the IDF’s force was excessive.
This is also not Spain’s first run at bringing war crimes allegations against Israeli officials.
After the IDF’s 2002 bombing of Hamas mastermind Salah Shehadeh, the full range of Spanish courts got involved in reviewing the deaths of 15 civilians and the injuring of 150 that came along with the attack.
But in 2009 the top judicial court in Spain, in one of the flagship lawfare cases against Israel, essentially approved Israel's High Court and related investigative decisions that the killing and injuring of the civilians and the destruction or damaging of 38 houses all in order to kill Shehadeh had not been disproportionate under the circumstances.
While many critics have slammed Israel's legal and judicial apparatus as unwilling to criminalize IDF conduct, the Spanish court said that the apparatus satisfied "the requirements issuing from the application of the right to effective due process by an independent and impartial judicial system."
It was unclear from reports on the issue whether the latest Spanish arrest warrant would be respected by Spanish law enforcement and INTERPOL, or would be stalled as similar arrest warrants from countries which are friendly or neutral toward Israel have been.
Further, it was unclear whether the case had a serious path forward and chance of success or whether it was an individual judge acting on his own with little backing.Tovah Lazaroff, Ariel Zilber and Daniel J. Roth contributed to this report