War crimes can’t be hidden through smoother talking points

Is Israel half-acknowledging its legal failings while at the same time trying to convince the world that its “war on terror” is justified?

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has issued an order requiring the Israel Defense Forces to consult with the army’s legal advisers while military operations are underway and not just when they are being planned.

Ashkenazi imposed the stricter regulations despite opposition by several commanders, including members of the General Staff.

In making that decision, Ashkenazi has essentially accepted the viewpoint of Military Advocate General Avichai Mendelblit. However, in an effort to keep the legal advisers from disrupting the combat, the IDF has decided they will work only with the divisional headquarters while operations are underway – rather than with brigade or battalion headquarters, as is common in some Western armies, including the U.S. military.

In the wake of the release of the United Nation’s Goldstone report accusing Israel and Hamas of war crimes during the Gaza war, as well as efforts to issue warrants abroad for the arrest of senior IDF officers and former ministers, some Israeli officials have said the international rules of war need to be changed to better reflect the realities of asymmetric warfare.

Legal advisers at the Foreign Ministry and the military advocate general’s office have opposes such initiatives, saying it is unlikely that most countries would accept a reformulated Geneva convention.

However, efforts are being made to reach understandings with Western democracies and other countries, including India, to adopt what some call a dynamic interpretation of existing rules of war that would be better suited to the changing realities. Such rules would not restrict armies from countering the threat of terrorism because of concern that its officers or political leadership would be accused of war crimes.

It is in this context that this Newsweek article, that tells Israel it needs to improve its PR to win the battle of ideas globally, seems so misplaced. When will Zionists realise that the problem here isn’t bad spin, it’s growing outrage over their behaviour? End the occupation and opinions may shift. Keep on blockading Gaza and civil society will act accordingly.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions will only ramp up in 2010.

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