Western diplomats have expressed surprise at Israel’s decision to absent itself from a U.N. General Assembly vote last Wednesday to establish a body to collect evidence of atrocities committed in the Syrian civil war that could later be used for war crimes indictments.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s instruction to the Israeli delegation to be absent for the vote was due to heavy pressure brought to bear by Russia, Ynet reported on Tuesday.
The resolution was introduced by Luxembourg, though it had been drafted by several other countries from Europe and the Middle East.
“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 in — and several other allies of the Assad regime. We had no doubt Israel would support it,” a senior U.N. official said.
However, the upcoming vote was already a matter of debate within the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office. While most argued that Israel had to stand alongside the civilized world in investigating the horrors in Syria, others warned that it could set a dangerous precedent, allowing the General Assembly, rather than the Security Council, to conduct such inquires, which could easily be turned against Israel in the future.
The Foreign Ministry decided to recommend voting in favor of the resolution. But it lost out to another player — namely Russia.
“This was a diplomatic decision made by the highest ranks in the government,” a senior Foreign Ministry official confirmed to Ynet. “I cannot elaborate beyond that.”
The resolution draft was adopted by the General Assembly: 105 countries voted in favor, 52 abstained, 15 voted against and 15 were absent. Among those not present were Rwanda, Eritrea, Libya, Angola — countries in which war crimes have taken place in the past — and Israel.
The U.N. official asserted 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 [voted against] Israel on the settlements resolution.”
“Israel, of all countries, doesn’t come to a vote calling to investigate genocide?” the U.N. official asked incredulously.
The Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report.