Former Israeli General Rejects Spanish War Crime Investigations as 'Propaganda'

A former Israeli general on Friday rejected as "propaganda" a decision by a Spanish court to investigate him and other Israeli officials for war crimes.

Former military chief of staff Moshe Yaalon told Israel's Army Radio that he was "not worried" about standing trial. He said the goal of the Spanish court decision was to delegitimize Israel and "present us as war criminals."

A Spanish judge began an investigation Thursday into seven current or former Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed a top Hamas militant and 14 other people, including nine children. The judge acted under a doctrine that allowed prosecution in Spain of crimes against humanity or crimes such as terrorism or genocide, even if they are alleged to have been committed in another country.

The decision to investigate seven Israeli officials for a deadly 2002 attack against Hamas that had nothing to do with this Iberian country has renewed a debate about the long arm of European justice.

Israel's Justice Ministry said Friday it had transferred material on the case to Spanish authorities and hoped that it would be closed soon. It added that the launching of the investigation in the first place was unfortunate.

"There is no doubt that this is a cynical political attempt by anti-Israel elements to abuse the Spanish court system and attack Israel," the ministry said in a statement.

Israeli officials said following the transfer of material, Spain would likely close the case. They added that Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos informed his Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, that his government would act to promote legislation that would limit the authority of the courts on these matters.

Critics say Madrid should mind its own business, particularly since Spain is still struggling to address atrocities during its own bloody past. Supporters argue that some crimes are so heinous that all of humanity is a victim, and somebody has to step up and prosecute them.

And Spain is hardly alone. A number of European countries have enacted some form of "universal jurisdiction," a doctrine that allows courts to reach far beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes.

— In 2001, a Belgian court brought charges against then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in connection with a 1982 massacre in Lebanon.

— French judges have opened investigations into Congolese security officials and convicted a Tunisian interior ministry official of torturing a fellow citizen on Tunisian soil.

— And Spain has indicted Augusto Pinochet and Osama bin Laden among others, including Argentine dirty war suspects.

"I think some of these judges are looking for publicity, taking on causes that have no business being tried in Spain," said Florentino Portero, an analyst with the Strategic Studies Group, a conservative Spanish think tank. "They are practicing politics through judicial work."

The most recent case involves a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh and 14 other people, including nine children. Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu agreed to take the case on the grounds that the incident may have been a crime against humanity, prompting a furious response from Israel.