Facing ICC, Ya'alon appoints veteran Sharon Afek as new IDF head lawyer

With the IDF under possibly unprecedented international scrutiny following the summer 2014 Gaza war, Ya'alon picked Afek as most suited to the task of addressing those and other IDF legal challenges.

Sharon Afek (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Sharon Afek
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Facing a preliminary investigation from the International Criminal Court and with most of the key war crimes investigation probes still undecided, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Monday appointed Col. Sharon Afek as the next top lawyer for the IDF to succeed Military Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. Danny Efroni.
With the IDF under international scrutiny following the summer 2014 Gaza war, Ya’alon picked Afek as most suited to the task of addressing those and other legal challenges.
Afek, who is to be immediately promoted to brigadier-general, has served as the deputy MAG from 2009-2012 and held key positions in the military law division since 2002, including several years in the IDF’s international law department, eventually rising to be its deputy head.
His appointment was endorsed by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, though Ya’alon had the final word.
He was considered the top internal candidate to become the MAG in 2011 and many view his appointment as the correction of an injustice when he became an indirect casualty of battles between former defense minister Ehud Barak and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
Though Afek had no formal connection to either, Barak viewed him as too much in Ashkenazi’s camp, having served under former MAG Avichai Mandelblit, who was seen as very close to the chief of staff.
Efroni was brought in as a compromise candidate between Barak and Afek and other candidates viewed as too close to Ashkenazi. While he has earned respect from many, he was never viewed as the legal division’s natural leader the way Afek is.
While other candidates who were passed over left the military, Afek stayed in uniform authoring a major treatise on cyber warfare that he interviewed with The Jerusalem Post about in 2014 and held major positions at the IDF’s war college.
Efroni earned both fans and enemies for his pressuring Weinstein to broaden an already closed criminal investigation against Ashkenazi regarding the Harpaz Affair.
Recent reports have indicated that while Weinstein gave in to the pressure and reopened the investigation that he will still close the file, though with Afek ascendant, he will close the file without having to take into account criticism from Efroni.
Afek will need to make the final decisions on how to address the Hannibal Protocol, Shejaia and other major incidents in which large numbers of Palestinian civilians were killed in the 2014 war. The IDF has not publicized a decision regarding them, even as it has done on several dozen incidents and started investigating 190 others.
Ya’alon said, “The military-legal arena has changed in recent years to be even more important and complex,” including the need to have a “deep understanding of international law.”
He added that he was confident that Afek with his “expertise in these and other areas” would rise to the challenge of defending the IDF’s legitimacy and raise the legal division to “new levels of professionalism.”