Israel gov’t lawyers help NATO fight lawfare, receive awards

NATO started to ask Israeli lawyers from the Justice Ministry and the IDF’s international law divisions to assist it with dealing with legal proceedings arising from asymmetric warfare situations.

September 2, 2019 00:53
4 minute read.
Israel gov’t lawyers help NATO fight lawfare, receive awards

Andres Munoz Mosquera [L[, Director of the Office of Legal Affairs at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, Marlene Mazel, Director of the Foreign and Counter-Terrorism Litigation Department of the Ministry of Justice [C], Major Ben Wahlhaus, Senior Legal Advisor in the International Law De. (photo credit: MINISTRY OF JUSTICE)

Who would have thought 19 years ago that Israeli public sector lawyers would be teaching NATO lawyers about how to combat lawfare?

The Jerusalem Post has learned that dating back to March 2018, NATO started to ask Israeli lawyers from the Justice Ministry and the IDF’s international law divisions to assist it with dealing with legal proceedings arising from asymmetric warfare situations.

Israel has unique experience both operationally and in explaining its side of the story in foreign courts in fighting asymmetrical warfare.

In those foreign courts, Israel explains how it often confronts adversaries who systematically use human shields, fight from civilian locations and run roughshod on the laws of war.

Based on this experience, NATO turned to Israel for assistance with some of its own recent lawfare challenges now that it is more often dealing with asymmetrical warfare situations, and this past May, NATO gave awards to some Israeli legal officials involved in the dialogue.

Senior Justice Ministry official Marlene Mazel and IDF Maj. Ben Wahlhaus were given the 2019 Serge Lazareff Prize by Andres Munoz Mosquera, director of the NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (“SHAPE”) Office of Legal Affairs.

In presenting the prize, Munoz praised the ongoing legal dialogue between Israel and NATO in the fields of lawfare and legal resilience.

“The dialogue, which is part of Israel’s broader cooperation with NATO, has involved in-depth discussions regarding how the law can be used to promote a military and political campaign and what measures democratic states can take when these strategies are used against them or their officials by terrorist actors and enemy states promoting a political agenda,” the ministry said in a statement to the Post.

Munoz described the dialogue that started in March 2018 as “bliss, because [NATO] started discovering that we were not inventing or making up anything, that lawfare or legal operations or hostile legal operations were really happening.”

The meetings (which Munoz told the Post actually arose unexpectedly from a broader NATO-Israel meeting in November 2017) helped NATO expand their strategic thinking about what measures could be taken to counter hostile legal operations and to deter their use, the Justice Ministry told the Post.

Munoz explained that he was very grateful to the inter-agency Israeli team for openly sharing the State of Israel’s knowledge on these issues.

He further explained that Israel’s legal advisers’ expertise in this field, and the dialogue between Israel’s and NATO’s respective legal teams, has enriched their work, and has given them a new perspective about the field of lawfare.

The ministry said that “this 360-degree perspective of the battlefield is enabling NATO to develop new legal strategies and counter-strategies.”

According to Munoz, these strategies will be relayed in training to NATO staff attorneys, and will allow them to provide better advice to their leadership. Munoz told the Post that NATO first encountered its own lawfare challenges in 2015.

One day, he received a surprising call that a Bulgarian citizen with residency in Germany was suing NATO in a German court for allegedly debasing the reputation of another country.

It took some time, but Munoz eventually pieced together that the man suing was Russian by birth, and either out of sympathy with Russia or because he was an operative who Russia activated, was trying to help Moscow in its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

At the time, Munoz explained to the Post that NATO’s commander was frequently going on CNN and identifying, on live television, Russian flags hanging on jeeps and Russian special forces gear on troops who were acting to annex Crimea.

THIS BURST Russia’s fake claim that it was not involved in Crimea and only Crimeans were fighting among themselves.

To try to intimidate the NATO commander from identifying Russian forces in Crimea on TV, this lawsuit had been filed in Germany.

Munoz said that this wake-up call, plus seeing Israel’s advanced and systematic preparation for fighting lawfare on an anticipatory basis, as opposed to sitting and waiting for new lawsuits, helped alter NATO’s approach.

“We have found that the challenges facing Israel may well be the challenges that the Alliance and the allies already face, or may face in the future,” Mazel said. “The State of Israel is eager to share our experiences, and to learn from the experiences of others.”

“It is our hope that one day shalom – peace – will prevail,” she added. “However, until that day arrives, and perhaps for that day to arrive, we will work together to promote national and global security, for Israel and the NATO states.”

The ministry also noted a recent speech in Israel by the General Counsel of the US Department of Defense, Hon. Paul C. Ney Jr., in which he said that, “a state like Israel is on the vanguard of addressing challenges in the law of war. Israel has also had exceptional experience in combating terrorism, in fighting enemies that deliberately hide behind innocents and defy the law of war.”

Representatives of the international law division of the ministry thanked Deputy Attorney-General for International Affairs Roy Schondorf and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, “who is himself an expert in the field of lawfare,” for their “unflagging support” in making the dialogue possible.

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