Cabinet to endorse legal backing for IDF troops

Defense minister will present cabinet with resolution to help soldiers facing Gaza op-related lawsuits.

ehud barak gaza op 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
ehud barak gaza op 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Ministers will vote today on Defense Minister Ehud Barak's proposal to provide full legal and moral support to soldiers and officers who participated in Operation Cast Lead. Preempting possible allegations of war crimes by individuals who took part in the military campaign against Hamas, the cabinet is expected to commit the state to providing full legal defense to any soldier faced with legal action in foreign courts. Barak drew up the proposal after consultations last week with the IDF and Justice Ministry officials. Ahead of the cabinet discussion, Barak said the government was responsible for sending troops to defend Israeli civilians and therefore "is obligated to provide full backing to thwart any attempt to harm them, stemming from their participation in Operation Cast Lead." The IDF acted "in a moral fashion, believing in the justice of the cause," he said, adding that he "doesn't know an army that operates according to the high moral standards of the IDF, and there is no place for an automatic backlash following every military campaign." The proposal notes that the war was a legitimate act of self-defense under international law, that followed years of restraint following the firing of thousands of rockets into southern Israel. The IDF did everything possible to prevent innocent civilians being harmed, the resolution notes. Pamphlets were dropped and local residents were warned by phone to keep away from battle zones. The army also kept up humanitarian supplies to the civilian population throughout the conflict. The draft resolution also notes that despite Israel's best efforts there were tragic and regrettable instances of civilian casualties. Hamas cynically used civilians as human shields and is therefore responsible for noncombatant casualties, it says. IDF intelligence and legal experts are compiling evidence related to operations in Gaza, which will be used to defend military commanders who face lawsuits abroad. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set up a special team on Thursday, headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, to deal with legal action connected with Operation Cast Lead. The team will be comprised of representatives from the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign, Defense and Justice ministries, and will include experts on international law. The move followed an assessment by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz that Israel will probably be faced with a series of lawsuits. Richard Falk, an independent UN rights expert, said last week there was compelling evidence that Israel breached basic humanitarian rules and the laws of war by conducting a large-scale military operation "against an essentially defenseless population." In 2004, Falk wrote a preface to David Ray Griffin's book The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11, which purports to present evidence that George W. Bush's administration was complicit in the September 11 attacks. The IDF Censor has already issued orders forbidding the media from publishing the names or photographs of senior officers who participated in Operation Cast Lead, out of concern that international war crimes lawsuits might be filed against them. The officers can only be identified by the first letter of their name and their unit.