The IDF's top legal officer said Thursday he is unconcerned by Palestinian Authority (PA) plans to sue Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for "war crimes" in Hamas's latest terror war against the Jewish state last summer.
Major General Danny Efroni said the military is running 15 criminal investigations stemming from the 50-day war, expressing confidence they would head off a parallel probe by the Hague-based court.
"It should be enough with our quality and professionalism, and if it meets our professional standards then it should meet that of any others," he told journalists at a military legal conference near Tel Aviv.
Efroni denied that the PA unilateral move to join the court on January 7 – in breach of the Oslo Accords that created the PA - had put pressure on Israel to open its own investigations.
"All my decisions are unconnected to the ICC…there has been no change because we are professionals," he said. "When we decide to launch a criminal investigation, it's a full and thorough criminal investigation – it's not just to counteract the ICC – never."
The PA membership in the ICC, which takes effect on April 1, sets the scene for potential legal action against Israelis for alleged "war crimes," but many have noted it opens the path for Israel to sue the PA and Hamas for their numerous war crimes. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction actively took part in Hamas's missile war on civilian centers.
On January 16 the ICC announced "a preliminary examination" into Israel's actions over a period including the Gaza war.
"When I get up in the morning, I can look in the mirror without any qualms of conscience," Efroni said. "Our agenda is not set by the ICC, we examine and investigate what should be investigated. We are a state that is willing and able to investigate and indict anyone that does something wrong."
Efroni's office has so far opened 15 criminal investigations into incidents which took place during the war and has heard testimony from 17 Gazans.
Among the cases are the shelling of a UN school used as a rocket launch site on July 24 that medics said killed at least 15 people, and the July 16 bombing of a beach where four children died as the IDF targeted terrorists.
Ten investigations were opened for clear-cut criminal acts, while the rest were the result of a probe by fact-finding assessment (FFA) teams looking into "exceptional incidents." So far, no indictments have been filed.
Efroni said two other cases filed through the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights – one of them relating to allegations of theft – had been closed after the complainants failed to testify.
"We said they would have the immunity to come and go back to the Gaza Strip but they decided not to come," he noted.
There are also a number of other high-profile cases under investigation, with Efroni to rule on whether or not to open a criminal probe.
One relates to an incident on August 1 known as "Black Friday," when a ceasefire with Hamas was already supposedly in place and terrorists surprised an IDF elite unit, killing three soldiers and abducting the body of one of them, Second Lt. Hadar Goldin hy”d.
In the chase that ensued, IDF artillery pulverized the area near the tunnel into which Goldin's body was abducted, as part of the Hannibal Protocol that the IDF employs in such cases – using all means to eliminate the abducting terrorists, even if it means killing the abducted soldier as well. Dozens of Arabs were reportedly killed, leading some leftists to demand that soldiers be put on trial.
Efroni confirmed he was examining the case but refused to be drawn on what he would decide. "It's on my table and I have to make a decision," he said.
Last month, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon expressed his firm opposition to any criminal probe of Black Friday.
Efroni shrugged off the issue, saying "I don't feel that I'm under any pressure" either way.
Efroni said that if the FFA findings indicate "reasonable suspicion of committing a crime or a severe breach of the laws of armed conflict, then a criminal investigation will be opened."
In many cases, the decision of whether or not to open a criminal probe was a matter of interpretation, he said.