Middle East Ticker

The Middle East Ticker

By Yishai Schwartz, Jennifer R. Williams
Thursday, April 30, 2015, 10:32 PM

UN inquiry finds Israeli munitions killed civilians sheltering in UNRWA schools, also finds Hamas used (separate) UNRWA schools to store missiles and fire at Israelis. A special investigative panel designated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and led by Dutch general Patrick Cammaert submitted its full report to the parties this week. The 207 page report has not yet been released to the public, although a summary and letter from Ban have been published. (According to Israeli media, the full report will be released in June.) The summary concludes that there were seven incidents of Israeli fire at, or near, UN schools, and three incidents of Hamas munitions stashed in UN schools from which Hamas “probably” directed fire. Although Israel is not cooperating with a separate probe from the UN Human Rights Council, it did with the Cammaert inquiry. The Israeli foreign ministry cites this cooperation as “evidence that when asked to assist in a professional investigation that is not biased against it, Israel responds with full cooperation.”

Two Naval War College scholars have concluded an extended “legal and operational assessment of Israel’s targeting practices” during this last Gaza war: The assessment, by John Merriam and Michael Schmitt, was based on visits to Israeli military sites, and Hamas infrastructure, reviews of combat footage and operational directives, and extensive interviews with IDF legal advisors and combat commanders. They conclude: “Israel’s positions on targeting law are consistent with mainstream contemporary State practice. While some of them may be controversial, they are generally reasonable and in great part closely aligned with those of the United States.”

The Israeli military announced its first indictments for conduct during this summer’s Gaza war. Two soldiers are charged with looting the equivalent of about 600 dollars from a home in the Shajaiya neighborhood, and a third is charged with helping the first two cover up attempt to cover up the evidence. The theft, which was quickly discovered and reported by the soldiers’ commanders, is one of the most straightforward decisions facing Israeli military prosecutors: Currently, an additional 120 incidents---including allegations of disproportionate force, torture of detainees, and firing on a woman carrying a white flag---are at various stages of investigation. The decision to proceed with many of these, especially those investigations that appear to second guess operational decisions made in real-time, are expected to meet with resistance from the Israeli right. The Israeli Military Advocate General is well aware of the political pressures and has repeatedly insisted that politics will play no role in his decisions, saying both: “We will not put soldiers on trial only in order to satisfy the media, which is disturbed by the large number of civilians killed in the war” and “The explanation I sometimes hear, to the effect that everything we do is aimed only at protecting the soldiers from the court in The Hague, is a miserable statement. A Military Police probe is not an insurance policy for the IDF.”

Israel’s next military Advocate General will be selected soon, slightly ahead of schedule. According to reports in Israeli media, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and Army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot have begun deliberations to select Israel’s next military Advocate General, replacing incumbent Danny Efroni. The Advocate General wields an enormous amount of authority within the IDF, offering (often binding) legal advice on operations, and overseeing investigations and prosecutions of soldiers and West Bank civilians subject to military tribunals.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the king of Saudi Arabia who was crowned in January of this year following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah, issued a series of royal decrees on Saudi state television on April 29 that dramatically shook up the line of succession in Saudi Arabia and pushed a younger generation of royals (and the odd non-royal) much closer to the top echelons of power. The biggest change to come out of the decrees was King Salman’s decision to designate Mohammed bin Nayef, the country’s powerful interior minister and counterterrorism chief, as the crown prince and heir to the Kingdom. As The Guardian aptly explained, “By dismissing his half-brother and Abdulaziz’s youngest son, Prince Muqrin, 69, as crown prince, Salman has performed the equivalent, in British terms, of defenestrating Prince Charles and installing Prince William as the Prince of Wales.” In American terms, I suppose that would be like the Clintons deciding Chelsea should run for president in 2016 instead of Hillary.

Iranian naval forces seized a Danish-owned cargo ship flying under the flag of the Marshall Islands on April 29 in the Persian Gulf, prompting the U.S. military to dispatch a military destroyer to the location to monitor the situation. As reported by The Guardian, “According to a ‘free association compact’ with Washington, the US has sole responsibility for international defence of the Marshall Islands in return for exclusive military basing rights. The current compact expires in 2023.” The day after the incident, Iran’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that the seizure of a cargo ship was related to a years-old debt. The company that owns the ship is insisting that Iran let the ship go. In a statement, the Iranian foreign ministry said that Iran was following international law, and hoped the ship would be released “once debts have been settled, and hopefully the ship can carry on its course.”