Middle East Ticker

The Middle East Ticker

By Yishai Schwartz, Jennifer R. Williams
Thursday, February 19, 2015, 10:45 AM

Editor's note: Below, we offer our latest roundup of Lawfare-relevant items from the Middle East and North Africa. As we noted last week, this feature will appear occasionally and is modeled on Paul Rosenzweig's  “Bits and Bytes” series regarding cyber matters. Our goal will be to keep readers informed of legally inflected stories they might have missed, from a region that never ceases to provide grist for this site. 

Family of activist loses appeal in Israeli Supreme Court: In 2003, American anti-occupation protester Rachel Corrie was struck and killed by an Israeli bulldozer while she tried to physically block the demolition of Palestinian homes above smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egyptian border. Seven years later, Corrie’s family filed a lawsuit in Israeli court, arguing that bulldozer operator should have seen Corrie and that Israeli defense ministry be held liable. The district court judge found that the bulldozer driver had not seen Corrie, and that Israel should not be held liable as the incident occurred in the course of “military activities.” Last week, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court upheld that verdict.

Supreme Court votes to allow extremist Arab and Jewish candidates in Israeli elections: Less than a week after the Israeli elections committee voted to ban Baruch Marzel (for anti-Arab racism) and Hanin Zoabi (for support for Hamas) from standing in the upcoming Israeli elections, the decision has now been overturned. On Wednesday, an expanded panel of the Israeli Supreme Court voted 8-1 to reinstate both candidates. Both decisions were published without reasoning included in order to meet pre-election deadlines, but indicated that reasoning would follow in the coming days.

Israel’s top military lawyer defends “Hannibal protocol” at international conference on laws of war: Israel’s “Hannibal protocol,” according to which Israeli forces unleash heavy fire toward terror operatives escaping with an abducted soldier, came under withering criticism in the aftermath of last summer’s Gaza war. In early August, shortly after a ceasefire went into effect, Hamas militants captured Israeli soldier Harel Goldin and slipped into a tunnel. Israeli forces gave chase and unleashed heavy fire in the immediate vicinity, killing dozens of civilians before recovering Goldin’s body. The protocol was criticized both for endangering local civilians and the very soldier it attempts to rescue. This week, as the Israeli military hosted an international conference on the law of armed conflict, Military Advocate-General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni insisted that the protocol conforms with international law, and is not intended to kill the captured soldier. Efroni did not address the specifics of the protocol’s usage this past August, but indicated that the investigation was ongoing and a decision about whether to open a criminal case would be released soon. The multi-day conference includes MAGs from the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Australia, Romania, Norway, Switzerland, Czech Republic and NATO.

Hackers working primarily from Morocco, Gaza, and Egypt were behind a series of cyberattacks on Israeli government, military, and infrastructure systems, according to a new report published by the Trend Micro company in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force. The hackers reportedly used the tactic known as “Spear Phishing’” primarily against employees at Israeli companies---with the aim of collecting information for future cyberattacks. The report did not disclose which Israeli companies were targeted or how much information was stolen.

The UN Security Council on February 15 unanimously approved a resolution demanding that the Houthi rebels in Yemen “immediately and unconditionally” withdraw its forces from government institutions, “cease all armed hostilities against the people and the legitimate authorities of Yemen,” engage in “good faith” in the UN-led peace talks, release U.S.-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his cabinet from house arrest, and “refrain from further unilateral actions that could undermine the political transition and the security of Yemen.” As we noted last week, the U.S. and several other countries closed their embassies in Yemen in response to the increasing instability inside the country.

UN Security Council also held an emergency session on Wednesday on the crisis in Libya. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a radio interview called for the creation of a UN-backed coalition to address the threat of Islamist extremists in Libya. Egypt’s foreign ministry has also said that Arab states will ask the UN to ease the embargo on weapon sales to Libya at the Wednesday session. Libya’s internationally-recognized government says that the embargo has significantly hampered its ability to fight the jihadists inside the country. This comes in the wake of the a video released by Islamic State-linked jihadists in Libya showing the beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christians. On Monday, the Egyptian military publicly confirmed that it had carried out air strikes inside Libya against the Islamic State-linked militants in retaliation for the beheadings, while the Tripoli-based government began deploying ground troops to fight the militants in Sirte, where they have gained a significant foothold. Western powers, including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Britain, and the United States, issued a statement on Tuesday calling for a “political solution” to the conflict in Libya.

The case against Bahrain’s largest opposition party, the Al Wefaq, will be referred to the Public Prosecution---the state’s principal criminal enforcement office. According to the General Director of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security, “Al Wefaq is under suspicion of publicly inciting hatred against the government and disseminating false news in a way that could harm peace and national security” and of calling for “illegal rallies” and “incit[ing] hatred against the Ministry of Interior.” Bahrain--a close ally of the United States and the location of the U.S. Fifth Fleet--has been rocked by political unrest since 2011, when state security forces put down protests by Shi’ite Muslims calling for political reforms and better representation in the government. Shi’ites are the majority in Bahrain, which has been ruled by the Sunni Al Khilafa royal family since 1783. Al Wefaq is a Shi’ite organization.

Sunni lawmakers in Iraq announced on February 15 that they would boycott sessions of parliament in order to pressure the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to curb the growing influence of Shi’ite militias in Iraq. This announcement followed the abduction and murder of Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Qasim Sweidan al-Janabi, for which Sunni political leaders blame Shi’ite militias. Also on February 15, Human Rights Watch released a report claiming that “Abuses by militias allied with Iraqi security forces in Sunni areas have escalated in recent months. Residents have been forced from their homes, kidnapped, and in some cases summarily executed.” Many analysts believe that the fomenting of sectarianism by the Shi’ite government of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is partly to blame for the stunning rise of the Islamic State in Sunni-populated areas of Iraq in early 2014. U.S. policymakers are hoping that the new Abadi regime will follow through on its promises to curb sectarianism and rein in the militias, as political reconciliation between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shi’a is seen as critical to the future stability of Iraq and the fight against the Islamic State. However, as the New York Times reports, “Supporters of the militias say their participation has been critical in driving back the Sunni extremists in several parts of the country.”