Spain has allegedly agreed to change its legislation in order to try and prevent international forces from manipulating its court system unjustly in the future, according to a statement issued by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Friday.
The move comes in the wake of charges filed in a Madrid court against senior Israeli defense officials accusing them of “war crimes” in the assassination of senior Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh in 2002.
“I just heard from the Spanish Foreign Minister, Moratinos, that Spain has decided to change its legislation in connection with universal jurisdiction and this can prevent the abuse of the Spanish legal system," Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni told the Associated Press on Friday. "I think this is very important news and I hope that other states in Europe will do the same," she said.
Livni added that political organizations were abusing the Spanish legal system “in order to put charges against Israelis and others that are fighting terror.”
Spain’s law of “universal jurisdiction,” which was applied against seven senior Israeli officials, allows the prosecution of foreigners for crimes against humanity anywhere in the world. Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed his outrage at the Madrid court ruling, calling the action “delirious.”
TVE, Spanish State Television, quoted government officials who mentioned the possibility of a legal “adjustment or modification.” However, the change would not be retroactive or affect the case before the courts. Although Livni stated that Spain would change its legislation, Spanish government officials reiterated that they would not appeal its 1870 law of universal jurisdiction.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Sunday’s cabinet meeting attacked the Spanish probe, who has previously assured state protection of its military against foreign prosecution. Olmert referred to the Spanish court ruling to “bespeak a double morality and self-righteousness by those who – for years – shut their eyes to terrorism against residents of the State of Israel and who now stir themselves to cast aspersions on, and preach morality to, people who acted in defense against terrorism. We will fully back every Israeli citizen, and certainly security personnel who acted on behalf of the State if someone tries to cast aspersions on them and take legal steps against them.”
Minister Livni last week directed the Foreign Ministry's Legal Department to continue working as quickly as possible to fully expedite every legal remedy to cancel the Spanish magistrate’s ruling.
"Israel views the step taken today in Spain with severity, and will continue to work towards the cancellation of the ruling. One way or another, Israel will stand behind, and provide full legal counsel, to all members of the armed forces who acted in the name of the State of Israel,” Livni stated, adding, “The Spanish magistrate's decision is unacceptable, and Israel will use all the means at its disposal to cancel it."
Livni told Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos on Thursday night that Israel views the judge's ruling with severity. “The judge made his decision before he received the relevant documents related to the issue, and therefore, it can only be viewed as a political decision rather than a legal one,” Livni stated. In addition, Israel’s Foreign Affairs Minister stated that the Spanish court ruling “is of consequence not only to those who were actually charged, but to every Israeli who takes part in the defense of his country. This is an extremely grave and significant incident between states, and that is how Spain must relate to it."
The Foreign Affairs Minister said that the incident must be dealt with immediately, and that she expects a reply from Spain regarding how that country intends to solve the problem as soon as possible. The Spanish minister promised that he would forward the severity of Livni's remarks to the Spanish Prime Minister as well, and would advise Livni of any developments in the matter within the next few days.
The Justice Ministry subsequently sent documents related to the assassination of senior Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh to Spain in an attempt to end a probe into the killing. A Spanish judge accused Israel of war crimes in the assassination, which killed Shehadeh, his wife and daughter, and 12 others.
Those named in the probe include senior Israeli officials such as Ministers Avi Dichter and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former IDF Chiefs of Staff Moshe Yaalon and Dan Halutz. Israeli leaders said last week that they would provide IDF officers accused of crimes for carrying out state orders with whatever assistance they would need.