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Analysis: Israel listening to world opinion?

International reactions to the Gaza war are behind Israel's decision to consult lawyers on military action.

The government boycotted the inquiry rather than present its case on the grounds that the probe’s mandate was biased.

Ashkenazi’s decision, as well as the army advocate-general’s meeting with U.N. and U.S. officials recently, appear to be a step away from the “to hell with world opinion” approach.

But it is certainly worlds away from the state commission of inquiry demanded by Israeli doves or the investigations the Goldstone commission said would be needed to obviate referral to the ICC. An inquiry commission was never a realistic possibility because the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public views the war as a justified response to years of rocket fire. They believe Hamas is responsible for the civilian casualties on the grounds that it used the civilian population as human shields. No politician considering re-election would support a state probe or even anything more than mild criticism of the army.

The apparently cosmetic nature of Ashkenazi’s order appears rings true in his reluctance to move the legal advisers physically closer to the action — say, in battalion headquarters, as is the case with many Western armies — keeping them instead in divisional headquarters.

Moreover, Israel’s leading human rights organization, B’tselem, argues that the problem is not the degree of involvement of the army lawyers but their legal interpretations. It has called on Israel’s attorney-general to investigate “the involvement of army legal echelons in approving attacks on targets that were not legitimate targets.” The military denies that illegitimate objectives were targeted.

“Adherence to the principles of international law such as proportionality does not necessarily stem from inserting the legal people,” said B’tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli.

Indeed, judging from the pronouncements at the time of the war, it seems that the high toll in Gaza was less a function of how involved the army lawyers were than of the mindset of Israel’s leaders.

More than two weeks into the war Livni told Israeli radio that Israel was deliberately “going wild” in its use of military force in order to restore its deterrent capability. “We have proven to Hamas that we have changed the equation,” Livni said. “Israel is not a country upon which you fire missiles and it does not respond. It is a country that when you fire on it, it responds by going wild — and this is a good thing.”