The Israeli government has little faith that Britain will, in the near future, change the laws that allow arrest warrants to be obtained for Israeli officials on the suspicion of war crimes. The government is now pinning its hopes on an international initiative to amend the laws of war.
Israel officially maintains that it is the responsibility of the British government to amend legislation that has put London out of bounds for many Israeli officers and politicians.
But senior officials in the Foreign Ministry believe that PM Gordon Brown will not choose to pick a fight with his own backbenchers over what could prove to be an unpopular piece of legislation. This is despite personal assurances given by Mr Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband to Israeli leaders, including, most recently, opposition leader Tzipi Livni. An arrest warrant was recently issued against her by a magistrate over her central role in the government that ordered Operation Cast Lead, last year.
Experts in international law both from the Foreign Ministry and the IDF’s legal branch have been discreetly trying to find partners in other Western countries for a move to adapt the existing laws of warfare. They say new rules need to be drawn up, taking into account the kind of “asymmetrical war” Israel fought in Gaza last year and in the Second Lebanon War, and which is being fought by the West in Afghanistan.
The issue has come up mainly in talks between Israeli and NATO officers.
“We have found a great deal of acceptance of our ideas in talks with other armies,” said a senior IDF officer recently, “and an understanding that in the current climate of media and NGO scrutiny, the Fourth Geneva Convention simply is not adequate.”
One of the proposals is that, when the groundwork has been laid, President Shimon Peres will lead the initiative for a new international debate on the laws of war.
This week it was revealed that Hamas has set up a committee of legal specialists who coordinate the efforts of pro-Palestinian lawyers in countries with “universal jurisdiction” laws, such as Britain, to issue arrest warrants whenever a senior Israeli officer or official who can be tied to military operations visits one of these countries.