Iran Plans War Crimes Trials for Israelis

By Robert Mackey |

On the same day that the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan on war crimes charges, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opened an international conference in Tehran that will press Interpol to help Iranian prosecutors arrest 15 Israeli leaders on war crimes charges related to the recent war in Gaza.

Meanwhile, discussions are reportedly continuing in The Hague on the question of the international court’s authority to open an investigation of its own into actions carried out in Gaza, since the territory is not part of any internationally recognized state.

The Iranian state broadcaster Press TV reports today that the conference, “which is to focus on Israeli war crimes in Gaza,” brought together “legal experts, politicians and religious figures” for two days to “discuss ways to bring Israel’s top political and military leaders to trial over the atrocities committed in Gaza.” Press TV says that “discussion on a series of documents, which Iran recently sent to Interpol, implicating 15 Israeli officials, are also expected to be on the agenda.”

Iran’s Fars News Agency reports that “80 delegations from five world continents” are at the conference, including leaders of Hamas.

 

On Sunday, Reuters reported that Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, had drawn up charges against 34 Israeli commanders and 115 individuals concerning their actions during the Gaza campaign. Mr. Mortazavi told Reuters that the charges included “war crimes, invasion, occupation, genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Mr. Mortazavi also reportedly said that his office had “completed our investigation” of “15 individuals who were among those criminals” and had “asked Interpol to arrest these suspects.”

According to a report by Press TV on Monday, the people Interpol was asked to help detain include: “Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad Chief Meir Dagan, Chief of the General Staff of the I.D.F. Gabi Ashkenazi, and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz.”

Despite the very long odds against Interpol acting on this request, Mr. Mortazavi’s boss – the country’s chief prosecutor, Ayatollah Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi – is proceeding with elaborate plans for trying at least some of these Israeli officials in absentia. According to The Tehran Times Iran’s prosecutors will not be deterred by not having any Israelis in custody, and the case against them “will soon be heard in a symbolic trial in Tehran.”

Half a world away from the Islamic Republic of Iran, officials at the International Criminal Court in The Hague are also considering the possibility of opening an investigation of Israeli actions during the war in Gaza.

Last month Katrin Bennhold reported on The Lede’s sib-blog DealBook that the international court was “looking into a request by the Palestinian Authority” to investigate Israeli actions during the war in Gaza. Soon after that, Marlise Simons of The New York Times quoted Béatrice Le Fraper, an aide to the international court’s chief prosecutor, saying that the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, “has agreed to explore if he could have jurisdiction in the case.” Still, as Ms. Simons reported, “accepting jurisdiction would not automatically set off a criminal investigation.”

This week, though, Peter Beaumont of The Guardian reported that the court “is considering whether the Palestinian Authority is ‘enough like a state’ for it to bring a case” and “is examining every international agreement signed by the P.A. to decide whether it behaves – and is regarded by others – as operating like a state.”

Although Ms. Le Fraper told Ms. Simons last month that court officials were “still very far from any decision” on the matter, Mr. Beaumont reported this week, citing an unnamed source at the court, that it would decide whether it can investigate actions in Gaza within “months, not years.”

Even if the court decides that the Palestinian Authority has standing as a state under international law, another sticking point would be that, as Ms. Bennhold wrote, Israel “never signed up to the I.C.C., which means the court has no jurisdiction over anything that happens on its territory.” Israel does not claim Gaza as its territory, though, and as Ms. Bennhold noted, “the Palestinians argue that following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza they have sovereignty over the narrow strip, and last month handed the court an official letter recognizing its jurisdiction there.”

No matter what the court eventually decides about Gaza, of course, since Israel has not signed the Rome Statute, the 2002 treaty that created the court, it is hard to imagine a scenario under which any Israeli government would actually hand one of its citizens over to stand trial in The Hague.