WASHINGTON — The United States worked behind the scenes to help Israel contain UN probes into possible war crimes committed during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, Foreign Policy reported Tuesday.
The online foreign affairs magazine cited exclusive WikiLeaks cables detailing moves by the US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice to prevent a more thorough UN investigation of alleged abuses during the conflict.
Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the three-week-long Israeli offensive in December 2008 and January 2009, which was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket attacks.
According to one cable, Rice spoke with UN chief Ban Ki-moon three times on May 4, 2009 to urge him to remove recommendations for a wider investigation from a board of inquiry report into attacks on UN sites in Gaza.
Rice “underscored the importance of having a strong cover letter that made clear that no further action was needed and would close out this issue,” the US diplomatic cable said.
Ban said his staff was working with the Israeli delegation and “called her after the letter had been finalized to report that he believed they had arrived at a satisfactory cover letter.”
Later that year Israel and the United States pushed back against a similar effort to investigate the war by the UN Human Rights Council, which appointed a team led by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone.
The release of the Goldstone probe coincided with US efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and in another cable Rice links the two during a meeting with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
Rice told Ayalon that Washington “is still studying the report, remains concerned about the fact-finding mission’s mandate and many of the recommendations in the report,” according to the cable.
She then urged him to “help us help them with progress on the peace process, saying that the report can be more easily managed if there is progress.”
The Goldstone report said there was evidence that both Israel and Palestinian militant groups had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, urging independent probes on both sides.
Two weeks ago, Goldstone stepped back from the report, saying new information about Israel’s military actions led him to believe he had erred in concluding that Israel targeted civilians during the 22-day conflict.
He cited a UN committee of independent experts that followed up on the report and found that Israel “has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza.”
In contrast, Hamas, the Islamist militant group ruling Gaza, “have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel” that triggered the offensive, Goldstone wrote.
Israel, which bitterly opposed the investigation from the beginning, has since demanded that the United Nations rescind the report.
But last week, three co-authors of the report — Pakistani human rights lawyer Hina Jilani, Christine Chinvin, a professor of international law at the London School of Economics and former Irish peacekeeper Desmond Travers — rejected calls to retract it.
“We concur in our view that there is no justification for any demand or expectation for reconsideration of the report as nothing of substance has appeared that would in anyway change the context, findings or conclusions of that report with respect to any of the parties to the Gaza conflict,” they said in a statement to Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.