Israel has rejected a Biden administration call that it review its army rules regarding the use of live fire. The request followed the shooting death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.
“No one will dictate our live-fire instructions to us when we are fighting for our lives,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Wednesday during a graduation ceremony for maritime officers.
“I will not let a fighter in the IDF who defended his life under fire from terrorists be prosecuted just so that we will receive applause abroad,” Lapid stated.
Israel, he said, is “committed to the freedom of the press and has the strictest live-fire regulations in the world.
“Israel has expressed its sorrow over the journalist’s death. This is a tragedy that happened in the middle of a heavy-fire incident by terrorists.
"There has not been, and there will not be any political involvement in the matter. IDF troops have my full backing in their mission to protect the citizens of Israel."Defense Minister Benny Gantz
“The IDF never deliberately shoots at innocent people,” Lapid clarified, adding that “our fighters have the full backing of the Israeli government and its people.”
The prime minister spoke just one day after State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the Biden administration wanted Israel to review its rules of engagement.
Sources in Jerusalem said that the Biden administration didn’t actually bring up the issue with Israel.
The public dispute between Jerusalem and Washington flared up after the IDF concluded its investigation into Abu Akleh’s death while on assignment for the Al Jazeera network.
What did the Israeli report conclude?
It was highly probable, the IDF said, that one of its soldiers shot Abu Akleh accidentally while she covered violent clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in Jenin on the morning of May 11 wearing a flak jacket and helmet marked “PRESS”
The IDF added that Israel has no plans to pursue a criminal investigation. Its spokesperson told Israeli reporters that the army did not plan to review its rules of engagement in light of her death.
The IDF’s brief report did not unveil any new information regarding Abu Akleh’s killing. The Palestinian Authority claimed its investigation showed she had been deliberately targeted by the IDF.
Journalists in Washington on Tuesday pressed both Patel and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Tuesday on the need for Israeli accountability in her death.
“We have been very public about making sure that there is accountability,” Jean-Pierre said, however, she did not detail what steps Israel needed to take to comply with that requirement.
One journalist told her, “It feels like our government does not have our back.”
Jean-Pierre said she disagreed. “We stand up for journalists. We stand up for the freedom they should be given in order to report.”
The Israeli left-wing NGO Yesh Din accused Israel of granting immunity to soldiers irrespective of their actions. It said the US was correct to intervene.
“Lapid’s words prove that Israel is busy giving immunity in advance to its soldiers and its army,” Yesh Din said.
“The American demand to examine the open-fire instructions is correct and justified. Sometimes a true friend is needed to put a mirror in front of us and face hard truths, and this is what the US has done in this case. We hope that the army will change these instructions in a way that will prevent the shooting of innocent people.”
Abu Akleh’s case “is not unusual,” the organization said. “Many lives are cut short because the finger is light on the trigger. It is Israel’s duty to change this.”
Gantz and Bennett weigh in
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, however, said on Wednesday that there was no need to review the rules of engagement, particularly not at the request of the US.
“The IDF’s chief of the General Staff, and he alone, determines and will continue to determine the rules of engagement in accordance with our operational needs and values of the IDF,” Gantz said. “These instructions are implemented in a strict manner by soldiers and their commanders.
“There has not been, and there will not be any political involvement in the matter. IDF troops have my full backing in their mission to protect the citizens of Israel,” he stated.
Former prime minister Naftali Bennett (Yamina) also took issue with the State Department’s call for the IDF to change its rule of engagement in the field. He noted that the decision as to when soldiers should use live fire should only be determined by Israeli Army commanders and not the White House.
The army must be “detached from any pressure, internal or external,” said Bennett, who was the prime minister when Abu Akleh was killed.
“At any given moment there are Palestinian terrorists trying to murder Israelis, not the other way around,” Bennett said.
“Our hand is not light on the trigger,” he said, adding that there was a “moral imperative to strike terrorists to save human lives.”
“As prime minister, I gave full backing to our fighters, and I expect our friends in the world not to preach morality to us but to support us in our war on terror,” Bennett stated.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.