Analysis: No end in sight for IDF Gaza probes

Eighteen months after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and there still is no end in sight to the investigations and court proceedings.

On Tuesday, the IDF Military Attorney General, Major General Avichai Mendelblitt, announced that a soldier who admitted to shooting at a Palestinian woman against specific orders would be tried for manslaughter. In addition, a full criminal investigation will be launched into an incident which caused the deaths of 29 members of one family in an air-attack - the largest single loss of civilian life in the operation. In two other cases in which officers had deviated from their operational procedure, disciplinary measures were deemed sufficient.

All four cases appeared in the report prepared by Judge Richard Goldstone. With this announcement, the IDF hopes to put an end to the saga that has been damaging its reputation for so long and putting its officers at risk of war crimes prosecutions around the world, especially in the UK.

The Goldstone Report included 32 separate allegations of war crimes and claimed that the IDF had systematically murdered Palestinians and destroyed civilian infrastructure. Now all the allegations in the report have been investigated by army's legal branch. Aside from these few isolated cases, the forces were found to have operated according to the international laws of warfare. And so the IDF is finally hoping for some respite.

But there is not much chance of that any time soon. The manslaughter trial, for a start, will be traumatic, with more new details coming out as each new witness takes the stand, and the soldier's lawyers inevitably claiming that the 21-year-old is being turned into a scapegoat for the entire army.

The criminal investigation into the 29 dead Al Samouni family members is another bomb waiting to go off and if that's not enough, there are still some 15 other inquiries on the boil.

Even after the last case file is closed, Cast Lead's toxic legacy will live on. It seems that the nature of warfare has been changed forever. As Britain and the US are finding out in Afghanistan, 20th century wars were relatively simple. Two armies would just slug it out, but fighting a shadowy organisation which uses civilians as cover and YouTube as its propaganda tool means that you have to be ready to fight on many parallel battlefields.

When Israel, or any other Western nation, has to fight its next war, so many resources will have to be allocated to the legal and PR aspects that it may be better to surrender in advance.

    Last updated: 12:39pm, July 8 2010