IDF will lead fight against ICC war crimes investigation

The Justice and Foreign Affairs ministries will work together with the army’s legal teams and are well-prepared for the fight, according to officials.  

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Wearing both hats of justice and defense minister, Benny Gantz held consultations Thursday with senior personnel to define the scope of their activities in defending the country from the expected International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes dating back to mid-2014.

After the meeting with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Chief Military Attorney-General Sharon Afek and others, Gantz decided that the IDF would take charge of preparing for the legal fight in the Hague. The judicial system would also recommend that only a small team of ministers should be established to coordinate the legal and political battle.

Officials in the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs spoke confidently to Israel Hayom regarding the future courtroom confrontation, which they pointed out was months, if not years, away.

“There’s no doubt that this is a bad and serious development, [but] we have prepared for it,” they said.

The ministries would also “make every effort to avoid reaching this moment” of actually going to court, but if necessary, “we are prepared to provide protection to any Israeli civilian, soldier or not, from any legal persecution of the ICC.”

It’s “important to understand,” they added, that any possible arrests are “not something that can happen immediately. These processes drag out for many years and many months at least will pass before such a thing could become a practical possibility.”

Like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they criticized outgoing Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda freely for a decision “that is baseless in every sense,” both legally and procedurally, and offered proof that it was politically motivated.

Noting that the Bensouda had made the ruling just a few months before her tenure ends in June, they said that trying to dictate an agenda to her replacement was “something that is not done,” and in fact was not done in other potential hearings before the court.

“In other cases, such as Nigeria, where the prosecutor said that conditions exist for opening an investigation, she decided specifically to shelve the case due to this same transition period,” they said. “It only illustrates the politicization of this decision.”

The sources also lamented that the ruling would lead to negative repercussions for the region.

“The decision will adversely affect our relations with the Palestinians and it is a sad day for international law… as well as the moment of opportunity created by the normalization agreements, due to the attempt to politicize the conflict,” they said.

In a split decision made last month by the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber, the court gave itself jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem so that it could hear Palestinian charges of supposed Israeli war crimes committed during IDF operations in and around Gaza against terrorists. It also agreed to discuss whether the entire settlement enterprise could be considered a war crime.

The charges were rejected by almost every Jewish political party in Israel. Only far-left Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz said Saturday night that he supported the ICC investigation.

“I say this with great pain; this decision is correct,” he said, regarding both an investigation into Jewish construction and the conduct of the IDF specifically during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

Likud, Yemina, New Hope and Blue and White all condemned Horowitz, with Gantz, who heads Blue and White and was chief of staff during that campaign, taking special umbrage.

“Your comments are very severe and I call on you to retract them,” he tweeted in response, adding, “No political campaign can justify legitimizing the ridiculous decision of the court in the Hague.”