Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed Israel’s delegation to the UN to skip a UN General Assembly vote last Wednesday on a resolution draft calling to form a body that would investigate the Syrian civil war, apparently due to pressure from Russia.
After the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israel's settlements, Netanyahu bemoaned that “half a million human beings are being slaughtered in Syria. Tens of thousands are being butchered in Sudan. The entire Middle East is going up in flames and the Obama administration and the Security Council choose to gang up on the only democracy in the Middle East – the State of Israel.”
On Wednesday, the UN sought to pass Resolution A/71/L.48, which calls to form an "International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011."
It was raised by Luxembourg, but written by several other countries from Europe and the Middle East.
A senior Western official at the UN, who worked on preparing the resolution draft, said its objective "is to collect as much evidence and testimonies about war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed and are being committed in Syria, so when the time comes, even if that takes many years, we could prosecute the guilty.”
“We want experienced criminal investigators to join the fighting forces,” he explained. “At this point they will only collect and preserve the evidence—cellphones, fingerprints, weapons, testimonies, recordings and photographs. At the next stage, based on ability and accessibility to witnesses and to the accused, indictments will be formulated."
The official mentioned that it was only thanks to the massive efforts of evidence collection carried out by the Allies at the end of World War II and immediately after that Nazi war criminals could be brought to justice.
"We were sure the entire world would unite behind the decision, except Iran and Russia—which is worried the investigation will include evidence against actions Russian soldiers were involved it—and several other allies of the Assad regime. We had no doubt Israel would support it," the official said.
In the days that preceded the vote, officials at the Israel Foreign Ministry and at the Prime Minister's Office debated on how to vote. Most asserted that Israel, perhaps more than any other country, must stand with the enlightened world in demanding to bring to justice those who have been responsible for terrible war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
On the other hand, some argued that the decision would serve as a problematic precedent for Israel: If the UN General Assembly, rather than the Security Council, has the authority to form inquiry bodies, it could form one to investigate Israel as well in the future.
Eventually, the Foreign Ministry decided to recommend voting in favor of the resolution draft.
But behind the scenes, according to sources in Jerusalem, Russia put immense diplomatic pressure on Israel, followed by an order from Netanyahu to skip the vote.
"This was a diplomatic decision made by the highest ranks in the government," a senior Foreign Ministry official confirmed on Monday. "I cannot elaborate beyond that."
The resolution draft was adopted by the UN after 105 countries voted in favor, 52 abstained, 15 voted against and 15 missed the vote. Among those not present were Rwanda, Eritrea, Libya, Angola—countries in which grave war crimes have taken place in the past—and Israel.
The UN official claimed that "a cynical deal has been made between Israel and Russia. In the end you got nothing for it because two days later, the Russians screwed Israel over on the settlements resolution."
"Israel, of all countries, doesn't come to a vote calling to investigate genocide?!" the UN official wondered.
The Foreign Ministry and the PMO refused to comment on the report.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was outraged by the report, saying his late father Tommy Lapid, a Holocaust survivor, would not have forgiven Israel for remaining silent in the face of the atrocities in Syria.
"Children are being murdered in Syria,” Lapid wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday. “Tens of thousands of children are as hungry as he was, are being bombarded as he was, being sentenced to death as he was. And we didn't bother showing up to the vote. We weren't even asked to help, just take a moral stance, and even that we did not do."
"My father had always blamed the world for staying silent," he continued. "For not doing anything while he was in the ghetto and his father—my grandfather—died in the gas chambers. If he knew we were silent at this moment, he would not have forgiven us."