Israel and Spain have reportedly been trying to untangle a diplomatic mess of sorts, brought on by a Spanish human rights group, which is demanding seven Israeli officials involved in the 2002 assassination of Hamas operative Salah Shehade, be arrested if they set foot on Spanish soil.
Salah Shehade, who led Hamas' Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was targeted in a Gaza Strip operation in the summer of 2002. The operation carried an unfortunate civilian toll, as 15 Palestinians, including 11 children, were killed and dozens of other were wounded.
According to a Friday report in Yedioth Ahronoth, the Spanish rights group petitioned a Madrid court in June, demanding it issues arrest warrants against the Israeli officials involved in ordering Shehade's assassination.
The group named Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, then-Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, then-Shin Bet Chief Avi Dichter, former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, then-Air Force Commander Dan Halutz, Giora Eiland, then-head of the IDF Operation Branch and Doron Almog former IDF Southern Command chief.
The Spanish authorities have recently relayed a secret communiqué to the Israeli government, advising it on the proceeding and inquiring as to what – if any – measures had been taken against each of the people involved; and whether or not any of them still hold official state positions which grant them diplomatic immunity.
Israel expects the Spanish government to quash the petition, as the UK before it.
The Foreign Ministry has ordered the men in question to refrain from traveling to Spain until the matter is resolved, in order to avoid being arrested. Spain is a member of the International Criminal Court – The Hague – and according to its doctrine it is within its right to file charges of war crimes – even of the alleged acts did not take place on Spanish soil.
The Hague considers Israel's control on the territories a "crime of war."
Israel and Spain are currently trying to find a way to resolve the potentially diplomatically-volatile situation, with the IDF, Shin Bet, the Defense Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Prime Minister's Office and the Israeli Embassy in Madrid, all weighing in on the talks.
Israel stands to argue that the matter of Shehade's assassination has already been dealt with by the Supreme Court and that it had formed a special committee aimed at formulating ways to ensure any harm to civilian populations during IDF operations would be minimized.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged her Spanish counterpart Miguel Moratinos to find a way to resolve the situation, saying that "IDF officers must not be harmed by anyone filing a political, anti-Israeli lawsuit."
Diplomatic source told Yedioth Ahronoth that if the Spanish authorities allow the Madrid Court to issue the bench warrants, it may cause unnecessary tensions between Jerusalem and Madrid.
Tova Tzimuki contributed to this report