The International Law Department (ILD) is responsible for a variety of legal issues related to international law, and provides legal counsel to all relevant bodies within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on such matters. Additionally, the ILD provides assistance to government agencies outside the IDF with regard to aspects of international law which pertain to IDF activity. It also provides assistance in the handling of petitions to the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) and civil claims relating to international law.
Among the matters handled by the Department are: legal counsel with regard to the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and the humanitarian obligations of a party to the conflict; the laws of occupation; weapons control and the use of weapons; bilateral agreements; the legal aspects of the foreign relations of the IDF and its security cooperation with foreign militaries. Furthermore, the Department formulates opinions on issues of international law in response to appeals on behalf of international organizations and human rights organizations. The Department is also involved in international proceedings relating to the IDF and its operations and in the formulating and analyzing of international conventions on matters pertaining to the IDF, occasionally representing the State of Israel and the IDF in such forums. Additionally, the Department provides legal counsel to the Northern and Southern Commands of the IDF, as well as the Coordination and Liaison Unit in Gaza, by the placement of legal advisors at those agencies.
In addition to the provision of legal opinions on concrete questions, the officers of the Department are active in the implementation of international law in IDF activities, beginning with the planning processes, by taking part in the formulation of doctrine, operational plans and position papers.
Furthermore, the officers of the ILD undertake lectures and public appearances in a variety of professional forums which pertain to international law.
The Department is comprised of two branches:
The Security and Operational Branch, which includes the Security and Legal Section and the Operational Section, the legal advisors to the Northern and Southern Commands and the Operational Legal Counsel Element of the Military Advocate General's Corps in times of conflict (a team of legal advisors supervised by the ILD and trained for deployment to various bodies of the IDF in order to assist in providing legal counsel during conflict).
The Strategic and International Branch, which includes the Economic and Humanitarian Section, the Strategic Section and the Foreign Relations Section.
Legal Counsel in Operational and Security Matters
The Department's officers assist the IDF in its operational activities, and provide legal opinions as to legal aspects of the security activity of the IDF, primarily on matters pertaining to hostilities involving terror organizations in Lebanon and Gaza. This includes the provision of routine legal counsel to various IDF bodies, inter alia, with regard to these issues: LOAC, laws of occupation, international human rights law (IHRL), international criminal law, the legality of targeting, the legality of various means and methods of warfare and the formulating of rules of engagement (ROE).
Additionally, ILD officers are responsible within the IDF for the handling of legal proceedings, both domestic and international, on matters pertaining to the IDF, including lawsuits against IDF officers abroad. The Department's officers also address aspects of international law related to reports published by international organizations with regard to IDF activities.
ILD officers also provide relevant IDF bodies with legal counsel pertaining to the legality of weapons and weapons control (also in varying stages of development of weapons and during the formulation of manuals and professional instructions as to the use of weapons); detentions in the course of hostilities; legal aspects of the handling of "unlawful combatants" and the treatment of enemy casualties.
In addition to the abovementioned activities, as of 2007, and as one of the lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War, an Operational Legal Counsel Element was founded, under the supervision and responsibility of the Department. The Element is composed of regular-duty and reserve legal officers, who provide comprehensive and close legal counsel during exercises and conflict, with emphasis given to the LOAC.
It should also be noted that the Department's officers partake in numerous legislative proceedings on security matters, such as: the Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law, the Prevention of Infiltration Law proposal, the Terror Law and the amendment to the Civil Torts Law (State Responsibility).
Legal Counsel to the Northern and Southern Commands
The legal advisors to the Northern and Southern Commands provide their respective commands and relevant divisions with routine legal counsel on a wide variety of matters (with regard to both international and civil and administrative law), including: LOAC; means and methods of warfare; ROE, the treatment of infiltrators; the authority of soldiers; review of relevant legislative proposals; matters pertaining to real property and infrastructure; environmental law; the closure of areas for military use; implementation of the Freedom of Information Law; protection of civil rights and the rights of soldiers; civil claims; petitions to the HCJ and various other legal proceedings. The handling of these matters is carried out in coordination with other relevant bodies of the Military Advocate General's Corps, as needed.
Legal Counsel on Economic and Humanitarian Matters
The Department's officers provide routine legal counsel on matters of international law pertaining to humanitarian obligations to the civilian population in territories subject to belligerent occupation, as well as in the course of armed conflict.
The ILD's officers address, inter alia, matters pertaining to the Gaza Strip, its status following the implementation of the Disengagement Plan by Israel and the obligations of the State of Israel towards the Gaza Strip in general, and particularly in light of Hamas' hostile, armed takeover of the Gaza Strip. In this regard, legal issues include: the opening of land crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip; provision of goods to Gaza and the imposition of economic sanctions on Gaza.
The Department's officers provide legal advice to the relevant bodies and assist in the handling of formal appeals and petitions to the HCJ on routine matters, such as: entry into Israel of Gaza residents; their exit from the Gaza Strip abroad through Israel; entry of Israelis into the Gaza Strip; visitation of prisoners in Israel by Gaza residents; requests by Gaza residents for permits to stay in Judea and Samaria or in Israel; etc.
The officers of the Department provide routine legal advice to elements of the Coordination of Government Actions in the Territories (COGAT) agency and other government agencies with regard to civil matters pertaining to the Palestinians, with emphasis on existing understandings with the Palestinians, inter alia, regarding electricity, communications, customs between Israel and the Territories.
Additionally, a legal officer from the ILD provides regular legal counsel to the Liaison and Coordination Unit at the Erez Crossing adjacent to Gaza, with regard to all aspects of its activity.
Legal Counsel on Strategic Matters
Officers of the Department provide legal advice to the General Staff and serve as a database for knowledge, assisting as needed, other agencies within and outside the Ministry of Defense on matters of international law relevant at the strategic level in the Palestinian and regional arenas.
In the Palestinian arena, officers of the Department are involved in various processes and staff work pertaining to the preparations for negotiations and contacts with foreign representatives, as well as staff work regarding Israeli and IDF policy-making in the arena.
As to the regional arena, officers of the Department provide legal advice to staff and military liaison bodies regarding different legal aspects of Israel's and the IDF's relations with neighboring countries. In this framework, the officers participate in meetings with representatives of foreign armies and peacekeeping forces stationed in the region (which include, inter alia, coordination meetings with UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army pertaining to implementation of UNSCR 1701, meetings with representatives of the Egyptian Army and legal assistance to the Israeli-Jordanian Joint Boundary Commission).
In addition, this sphere includes legal advice on borders issues.
The Department's officers provide legal advice with regard to the IDF's relations with foreign militaries and government agencies, international organizations and NGOs.
This includes the provision of routine legal counsel on matters pertaining to military and strategic cooperation with foreign military forces and the participation in military exercises in Israel and abroad. Additionally, the Department's officers strive to further develop the Department's legal dialogue and cooperation with foreign militaries and organizations, as well as the foreign relations of the Military Advocate General's Corps itself together with the IDF School of Military Law.
Additionally, the Department's officers partake in the promotion of the IDF's legal positions, both domestically and internationally, through lectures, meetings, interviews and other similar types of forums.