The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
On Tuesday the controversy surrounding claims of South African arrest warrants against former IDF chief of staff Lt.- Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi and other top commanders from the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident heated up again with anti-Israel groups claiming victory and the Foreign Ministry strongly denouncing reports about arrest warrants as false.
South African journalist Gadija Davids and supporters held a press conference earlier on Tuesday, claiming they had convinced certain South African authorities to agree to enforce the Turkish arrest warrants against the former IDF commanders, which were forwarded to those authorities.
However, the situation was still far from clear.
Late Tuesday, after multiple rounds of clarification, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon stated unequivocally that the reports of arrest warrants are “not true and being spread deliberately by BDS activists as part of provocations against Israel.”
Asked point-blank if Ashkenazi would be arrested if he landed in South Africa, he said “no,” without hesitation.
South African law enforcement officials have yet to make a clear and direct statement to the public about the situation.
This lack of clarity has contributed to the ongoing dispute over what happened.
The basis of the claim regarding the arrest warrants is an alleged letter from law enforcement to Davids’s lawyer, which Davids refuses to make public.
According to Davids’s supporters and multiple South African media reports, after an initial mix-up last week in which a top South African law enforcement official rejected reports that he had issued arrest warrants against the Israeli officers, the same official has now agreed to recognize and implement the Turkish arrest warrants.
Davids and her supporters had backed off the original claim that South Africa itself had issued arrest warrants, but as of Tuesday were still standing by the claim that certain South African law enforcement officials would respect and enforce the arrest warrants issued by Turkey.
Local Jewish community leaders in South Africa on Tuesday were inconclusive about the situation, but were demanding to see the letter and to receive official confirmation from South African law enforcement about their intentions.
Last week, Nachshon had stated that “there is a coalition committed to an anti-Israel agenda” in South Africa that was trying to “cynically abuse its justice system in order to advance a hostile agenda against Israel.” But, he said, “we know that the highest authorities in South Africa will not lend their backing to this ugly attempt.”
Last week the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel in Africa NGO distributed a statement saying: “South Africa’s Directorate of the Priority Crimes Investigation Unit has issued warrants of arrest against four Israeli commanders from the Israeli Navy and Israeli Defense Force.”
According to the statement, the arrest warrants were issued against former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, former Navy commander Maj.- Gen. (res.) Eliezer Marom, former head of IDF Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin and former head of Air Force intelligence Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avishai Levy.
The NGO’s statement continued: “This decision follows a four year long case involving a South African journalist, Ms.
Gadija Davids, who was on board the Mavi Marmara when it was attacked in 2010.
“Davids laid her first complaint with the South African Police Services and South Africa’s National Prosecutions Authority in January 2011,” it continued.
Finally, the statement indicated that: “In November 2012, South Africa’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit [of the National Prosecuting Agency], found that the case met the necessary jurisdictional requirements and that reasonable grounds exist to investigate the alleged crimes that were committed during the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara (which had one South African citizen, Gadija Davids, as a passenger).”
South Africa and Israel have butted heads over a number of issues in recent years, including war crimes allegations, but until now there has been no formal move against top IDF officials.