Barak, Ashkenazi back Cast Lead panel

Body won't be allowed to probe officers; IDF Goldstone response due in 2 weeks.

Barak fancy (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry)
Barak fancy
(photo credit: Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi are pushing for the establishment of a judicial investigative panel to review internal IDF investigations of alleged wrongdoing during Operation Cast Lead last winter and to determine whether those investigations were thorough, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Barak and Ashkenazi have expressed support for the establishment of such a panel, which they would like to be headed by internationally respected jurists such as former Supreme Court presidents Aharon Barak or Meir Shamgar, on condition that the panel does not have the authority to independently question soldiers or officers.
The idea of these panels is a compromise between those, like Barak and Ashkenazi, who argue that the IDF can be counted on to investigate itself effectively, and those who favor an independent investigative body to look into alleged wrongdoing during the Gaza operation, as demanded by Judge Richard Goldstone in his report on Cast Lead.
The hope is that the establishment of this panel would deflect the war criminal charges against Israel found in the Goldstone Commission Report and at the same time would fulfill Israel's part of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon's call for "credible domestic investigations" by both Israel and Hamas.
"The idea is not to establish a committee like the Winograd Commission after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 but to have a panel of jurists review the internal IDF probes and to give their opinion on them," a senior defense official told the Post.
Both Barak and Ashkenazi are unequivocally opposed to officers being interrogated by an inquiry commission.
"The political echelon gave the orders and the officers should not be held accountable," the official said.
Israel, meanwhile, is expected to present Ban with its written rebuttal to the Goldstone Commission report by Thursday, so he will have time to read it before February 5, when he must brief the General Assembly on developments since the issuing of the Goldstone Report and consider the next steps.
Ban will be presented with the document in an informal matter, since Israel's official position is that it is not cooperating at all with the Goldstone process. At the same time, the sources said, Jerusalem wanted its position to be known to Ban before he addressed the General Assembly.
Parallel with this process, another - far more in-depth investigation - is being carried out by the IDF's Military Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit. While the report Ban will see on Thursday deals in general with the central claims of the Goldstone Report and attempts to refute many of them, the IDF report takes the report on "word for word" and refutes in detail the claims, while documenting the report's factual and interpretive errors.
This report, IDF sources said Sunday, would likely be completed within the next two weeks and will be released to the public.
The New York Times on Sunday revealed some of the IDF's detailed report, saying that Israel has photographic proof disputing Goldstone's assertion that Israel intentionally targeted Gaza's sole flour mill and that this "was carried out for the purpose of denying sustenance to the civilian population."
According to what will appear in the IDF report, the mill was accidentally hit by an errant artillery shell during a firefight with Hamas.
Government sources said it was not clear when, or in what forum, the IDF report would be released, although it was expected to be made public within the next two months.
The Prime Minister's Office in late October announced the establishment of a committee to consider various ways to deal with the allegations in the Goldstone Report, even while reiterating that IDF officers and soldiers would not be questioned.
The committee was made up of Mandelblit, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, the Foreign Ministry's legal adviser Ehud Kenan; the Defense Ministry's legal adviser Ahaz Ben- Ari; and Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser.