TurtleLeaks: Washington’s heavy-handed efforts to shield Israel

In the aftermath of Israel’s 2008-2009 intervention into the Gaza Strip, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, led a vigorous campaign to stymie an independent U.N. investigation into possible war crimes, while using the prospect of such a probe as leverage to pressure Israel to participate in a U.S.-backed Middle East ...

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In the aftermath of Israel's 2008-2009 intervention into the Gaza Strip, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, led a vigorous campaign to stymie an independent U.N. investigation into possible war crimes, while using the prospect of such a probe as leverage to pressure Israel to participate in a U.S.-backed Middle East peace process, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables provided by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

In the aftermath of Israel’s 2008-2009 intervention into the Gaza Strip, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, led a vigorous campaign to stymie an independent U.N. investigation into possible war crimes, while using the prospect of such a probe as leverage to pressure Israel to participate in a U.S.-backed Middle East peace process, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables provided by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

The documents provide a rare glimpse behind the scenes at the U.N. as American diplomats sought to shield Israel’s military from outside scrutiny of its conduct during Operation Cast Lead. Their release comes as the issue is back on the front pages of Israel’s newspapers, following the surprise recent announcement by Richard Goldstone — an eminent South African jurist who led an investigation commissioned by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council — in a Washington Post op-ed that his team had unfairly accused Israel of deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians.

The new documents, though consistent with public U.S. statements at the time opposing a U.N. investigation into Israeli military operations, reveal in extraordinary detail how America wields its power behind closed doors at the United Nations. They also demonstrate how the United States and Israel were granted privileged access to highly sensitive internal U.N. deliberations on an “independent” U.N. board of inquiry into the Gaza war, raising questions about the independence of the process.

In one pointed cable, Rice repeatedly prodded U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to block a recommendation of the board of inquiry to carry out a sweeping inquiry into alleged war crimes by Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. In another cable, Rice issued a veiled warning to the president of the International Criminal Court, Sang-Hyun Song, that an investigation into alleged Israeli crimes could damage its standing with the United States at a time when the new administration was moving closer to the tribunal. “How the ICC handles issues concerning the Goldstone Report will be perceived by many in the US as a test for the ICC, as this is a very sensitive matter,” she told him, according to a Nov. 3, 2009, cable from the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

Rice, meanwhile, assured Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during an Oct. 21, 2009, meeting in Tel Aviv that the United States had done its utmost to “blunt the effects of the Goldstone report” and that she was confident she could “build a blocking coalition” to prevent any push for a probe by the Security Council, according to an Oct. 27, 2009 cable.

Read the rest of this piece on the FP homepage.

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

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