Knesset to mull bill on security staff lawsuits

Bill ensures legal support for all members of the security forces except for the Mossad.

knesset full 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
knesset full 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
One of the Knesset's highest-ranking reserve officers has proposed legislation that would provide a legal basis for an institutionalized program to defend former security forces personnel against international legal action as a result of their service. MK Nahman Shai (Kadima) told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that his bill - together with the establishment of a working group within the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - will help Israel take positive steps to reduce the phenomenon of such legal action directed against Israelis and help security personnel feel that they act with the state's support. Shai's bill, which is co-sponsored by some two dozen MKs from both the coalition and the opposition, would ensure that "the State of Israel will defend personnel completely, and will bear the full costs required to do so." The government, Shai noted, has already announced it will do this, but without a legal basis for the policy, a change in administration or in policy could leave security personnel high and dry. The legislation would ensure legal support for all members of the security forces except for the Mossad, after Mossad officials asked that their employees be left out of the law for operational reasons. Shai emphasized that only personnel who had not violated the law through their actions would be entitled to subsidized defense. "We have already seen attempts in EU states and most recently in South Africa to prosecute former security officials, including [Maj.-Gen. (res.)] Doron Almog and [current Kadima MK and former public security minister] Avi Dichter. But tomorrow, Palestinian groups could target a colonel, a major or even Lt. Moshe whom they saw speak on television about his role in an operation like Cast Lead," said the former IDF spokesman. Before drafting the bill, Shai consulted with Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman MK Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima), who supported the measure and agreed that Shai would stand at the head of a working group that would seek to coordinate the relevant government ministries in establishing a unified front against international proceedings. Shai said that Israel's primary goal in confronting those proceedings should first be stopping them in their tracks - a practice that has been successful on a country-by-country basis. "But the problem with this sort of thing is that when you block it in one country, it pops up in another one," explained Shai. "This law would serve a practical purpose in anchoring this legal defense in law, but it also is important in that it sends a message to the soldiers who were sent into the field by the State of Israel that the State of Israel will back them up, will defend them and will offer support for them wherever they are," he said. Shai believes that the legal-diplomatic arena is crucial to Israeli strategy. "These legal challenges are a new front that combines political and legal pressure together with the military front. This is part of the phenomenon of public diplomacy, because it creates a front played out in the media worldwide," he said. In February, a Spanish judge decided to honor a request for a criminal probe into Almog; then-public security minister Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency); National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer; Likud MK Moshe Ya'alon, a former chief of the IDF General Staff; Dan Halutz, also a former chief of the IDF General Staff; then-National Security Council head Giora Eiland; and the defense minister's military secretary, Mike Herzog for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the IAF's 2002 targeted killing of Hamas strongman Salah Shehadeh in Gaza City. The probe was since called off, but as one of a series of similar cases in countries such as Belgium and the United Kingdom, it set off warning lights among cabinet members and legal advisers.