PM: Terrrorists turn aggressor into victim

Israel to provide legal defense for IDF commanders or soldiers brought before international tribunals.

ehud barak gaza op 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
ehud barak gaza op 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The cabinet on Sunday approved Defense Minister Ehud Barak's proposal to provide full legal and moral support to soldiers and officers who participated in Operation Cast Lead. According to the outcome of the cabinet vote, the state is committed to providing full legal defense to any soldier faced with legal action in foreign courts. At the start of the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized Hamas for trying to manipulate the world into calling for the prosecution of IDF soldiers for alleged war crimes committed during the Gaza operation. "Out of a policy of moral acrobatics they try to make the aggressor the victim and turn the victim into the aggressor," he said. The prime minister pledged that Israel would give "full backing to all who acted in its name and on its behalf." He warned the world against "the international slalom of turning victims into aggressors … Hamas's policy for years has been to fight to the last drop of Gaza civilians' blood and to hurt them." "Following the operation, terror groups have been trying to hurt us in other ways and the legal arena is one of them," he said. Olmert also spoke of the success of the Gaza operation, which he insisted was a last resort, particularly the quiet it had brought to Sderot. "I toured Sderot and I discovered a new place and a different atmosphere," he said. "Israel embarked on Operation Cast Lead not as a first option but as a last resort, after we tried all other ways and options to bring quiet to the communities in the South." Prior to the vote, Barak urged ministers to back his proposal and insisted that the IDF was the most moral army in the world. "The endorsement will ensure that since we sent out soldiers to carry out Operation Cast Lead, which was carried out exceptionally and by the most moral army in the world, the state of Israel, which sent the IDF on the mission, will give soldiers and commanders backing in the face of any external accusations or internal self-flagellation," he said. Barak drew up his proposal after consultations last week with the IDF and Justice Ministry officials. 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. 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. 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 names and their unit. Also during the cabinet meeting, Barak maintained that the Gaza operation had fulfilled its objectives, including hitting Hamas hard, restoring Israel's deterrence, starting diplomatic initiatives to create an effective anti-smuggling mechanism and bolstering the public's faith in the IDF, the state and its institutions. Barak also mentioned the humanitarian aid flow into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom, Karni, Nahal Oz and Erez crossings, saying that the goods were helping to improve the situation in the Strip. The defense minister added that talks were being held to get the Palestinian Authority involved in the provision of humanitarian assistance for Gazans. Barak also briefed ministers on Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad's talks in Cairo on Thursday regarding stopping weapons smuggling through the Philadelphi Corridor and said that although there was a build-up of arms in the Sinai destined for Hamas, Egypt was working to prevent their transfer. Barak also sought to allay concerns over pressure new US President Barack Obama might exert on Israel. "I am very familiar with the heads of the US administration, some of whom I have known for 15 or 20 years from working together," he said. "I am convinced that the real foundations of our ties and our joint interests will make this administration, too, a partner in attempting to bring about a solution for the conflicts in the region."