Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz (Analysis)
January 6, 2010 - 1:00am

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.

During Operation Cast Lead and in some other major IDF operations, legal advisers took part in the planning as well as the selection and approval of targets for destruction. However, legal advisers were rarely consulted once the combat began.

Last winter's operation in the Gaza Strip saw a gradual change on this issue, but it was only in recent months that the chief of staff reached a definitive position.

Meanwhile, greater emphasis has been placed on training officers in the rules of war and international law, as part of officer training courses at the level of company, battalion and brigade commanders.

In recent months, the IDF and Foreign Ministry have been cooperating increasingly closely on their interactions with foreign government and international organizations regarding the IDF's efforts to ensure the legality of its operations and to carry out investigations on the operations after they are over.

As part of this effort, Mendelblit has traveled to Washington for meetings with officials in the Obama administration, and to the United Nations headquarters for talks with officials there.

Part of the Israeli effort is to formulate understandings with foreign governments and armies on legal regulations that pertain to asymmetrical warfare, particularly involving fighting non-state entities in areas populated by civilians - the kind of combat that has characterized the IDF's battles with Hezbollah and Hamas, and those of NATO armies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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.


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