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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel has expressed its concerns to the US administration over the latest wave of civil lawsuits against Israeli officials in American courts.
In a letter to Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, Ambassador Danny Ayalon claims that these suits - against former chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon and former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency head Avi Dichter - interfere with Israel's foreign policy.
"The cases raise quintessential political questions, in which judicial interference is improper, impracticable and risks complicating or undermining the important political and diplomatic avenues that are currently being pursued," Ayalon wrote in his letter.
Attorneys for Ya'alon and Dichter have moved to dismiss the suits.
Ya'alon is being sued in a Washington court by a group of Lebanese citizens who lost relatives during the mistaken 1996 Israeli shelling of Kafr Kana. The case against Dichter was filed in New York by Palestinians and relates to the 2002 bombing of a building in the Gaza Strip which was aimed at Salah Shehadeh of Hamas but also killed civilians.
Both men were spending time at US think tanks when they were served with the lawsuits.
Dichter has already returned to Israel and is running for a Knesset seat on the Kadima list; Ya'alon is still in Washington.
The plaintiffs claim that the US Alien Tort Claims Act allows them to seek compensation in US courts from Israelis in cases of war crimes, human rights abuse and torture.
In his letter to Burns, Ayalon said all the actions for which the two are being sued were done as part of Israel's war against terror and that they did not act as individuals, but under their duties and in accordance with official policies.
"The attempts to draw US courts into the adjudication of these cases runs counter to the ongoing Israel-US dialogue and the key diplomatic role of the US in the region," the letter said.
Israeli officials confirmed that "there was an exchange of views regarding this case in the recent weeks," adding that it is standard procedure to involve the State Department in such issues.
Though lawsuits against Israelis in the US are not new, the past year has seen an upsurge in them. In the past there were also attempts to file criminal lawsuits against Israelis in Europe over their roles during the intifada.
In the motions to dismiss the cases, attorneys for Dichter and Ya'alon pointed to precedents in which US courts refused to take lawsuits against Israelis since they were seen as dealing with political actions of a foreign government.
The courts will decide in by May whether to take up these cases and proceed with a trial or to dismiss them.
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