A federal judge Wednesday tossed out a lawsuit filed by a legal rights advocacy group that solely blamed former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter for the July 2002 bombing that killed 15 people in an apartment building in Gaza City.
The target of the bombing was Hamas leader Saleh Shehada, but the strike also killed 14 civilians.
US District Judge William H. Pauley III said in a written decision that he ''cannot ignore the potential impact of this litigation on the Middle East's delicate diplomacy.''
He said the US State Department argued for dismissal of the lawsuit based in part on foreign policy concerns, and the Israeli government said Dichter deserved immunity because he was acting as a government official.
Pauley noted the US government had argued in court papers that the lawsuit, brought by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, threatened to involve the courts in policing armed conflicts across the globe, exceeding the role of the courts, and intruding on the executive branch's control over foreign affairs.
Israel had denounced the lawsuit, which named Dichter as the sole defendant, as ''cynical manipulation'' by extremists and the US State Department petitioned the court to grant Dichter's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
The lawsuit sought class action status for Palestinian survivors of the bombing and representatives or family members of those who were killed. It sought unspecified damages for what it called a ''targeted assassination'' in which the Israeli Air Force dropped a 2,205-pound bomb on an apartment building in Gaza City's al-Daraj neighborhood.
The suit was filed under a US statute that allows foreign nationals to sue in US courts for damages caused by actions that violate international law. Dichter also was in the United States when the suit was filed in 2005.
The lawsuit said the bombing occurred as part of a series of targeted attacks on suspected terrorists that has killed 327 people and at least 174 non-targeted bystanders, including at least 47 children, since September 2000.
The lawsuit argued Dichter had ''developed, implemented and escalated the practice of targeted killings.''
The Israeli government has maintained that targeted killings remain the most effective method to stem terror attacks and the country's highest court has ratified the tactic.
''I'm extremely disappointed,'' said Maria LaHood, senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights. ''He essentially gave Dichter immunity for killing children and adults because the government of Israel said he was acting officially and because the US government said he should have immunity.''
The judge is saying that "a government official is immune for a war crime, for killing people, if a government - in this case the Israelis and also the American government - says so," LaHood said. "It makes the prohibition against war crimes almost meaningless."