Israel Angry About US Probe of Shireen Abu Akleh’s Death, but Won’t Affect Ties
A Palestinian student from An-Najah University holds a picture of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead by the Israeli army during a protest in Nablus against the killing of Palestinian youths during a raid in the West Bank. (Nasser Ishtayeh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Israel Angry About US Probe of Shireen Abu Akleh’s Death, but Won’t Affect Ties

FBI’s ability to conduct investigation into killing of Palestinian-American journalist is very limited, expert says

The United States Justice Department informed Israeli authorities earlier this month that the FBI is launching its own investigation into the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The decision, which was first reported on Monday by Israeli news outlets, has angered Israel, whose military concluded an open investigation into the incident in July.

However, experts believe that this disagreement will not have serious repercussions on long-term ties between Israel and the US.

Abu Alkeh was shot and killed in May while reporting on an Israeli military operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank for the Al Jazeera network. The raid was part of Operation Breakwater, established to stop a wave of deadly terror attacks taking place in Israel. The operation resulted in clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen, during which Abu Alkeh was hit by a bullet.

In the wake of Abu Akleh’s death, the Israel Defense Forces conducted an open investigation into the incident and concluded that Abu Akleh likely was shot by an Israeli soldier by accident, while the Palestinian Authority claims that she was targeted.

“This is an overdue, but necessary and important step in the pursuit of justice and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh,” US Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who has been vocal in calling for the investigation, said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said during a speech on Tuesday in the Knesset that the IDF is “a moral and ethical army,” and it “thoroughly investigates any irregular event, and is committed to the values and laws of democracy.”

“Our soldiers will not be investigated by the FBI or by any other foreign country or entity, however friendly it may be. We will not abandon our soldiers to foreign investigations. We have conveyed our strong protest to the United States,” Lapid said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also condemned the American decision and tweeted on Monday that it “is a mistake.” He added that “the IDF has conducted a professional, independent investigation, which was presented to American officials with whom the details were shared.”

This is an example of the influence that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party can have on the country’s foreign policy

Michael Memari, an American foreign policy expert specializing in Middle Eastern affairs, told The Media Line that over the last several months, Democratic senators have pressured the Biden Administration to conduct this investigation.

He added that “even lawmakers widely considered pro-Israel, such as Sen. Bob Menendez, have written to the administration and called for a credible investigation into the matter.”

Professor Robert J. Silverman, a former senior US diplomat who served in some Middle Eastern countries and lecturer in the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Department and the Department of Strategy, Diplomacy and Security at Shalem College in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that this is decision is a reflection of domestic politics in the US.

“This is an example of the influence that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party can have on the country’s foreign policy,” he said.

He added that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party does not necessarily “respect Israel’s sovereign right to this case, to control investigations, and so it’s a sign of disrespect of the Israeli military’s own investigation.”

Silverman added that when American citizens die overseas in an allied country, the United States usually relies on the local country’s own investigation; in this case, he noted, the US decided not to rely on the Israeli investigation.

“It is pretty unusual in a close allied country for the FBI not to rely upon the investigation done by the relevant local authorities when an American citizen dies,” he said adding that the US usually relies heavily on the Israel Police and security authorities for information.

Memari said that even though this is creating some friction between the two long-standing allies, it is not likely to have serious implications for their medium and long-term ties.

“US-Israel relations have weathered many storms, from the infamous Jonathan Pollard espionage case to continual disagreements over peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” said Memari.

Still, he added, “this case has demonstrated the Democratic party’s increased willingness to criticize Israel and hold it to task, which will certainly prove a consequential trend.”

It is pretty unusual in a close allied country for the FBI not to rely upon the investigation done by the relevant local authorities when an American citizen dies

Silverman also believes that this will be minor in terms of both countries’ relations. “There’s way too much important things happening in the relationship for this to have a major effect. It’s something to continue to watch but by itself, it’s not a big deal,” he said.

As for American public opinion on the subject, Silverman noted that this is not a widely followed topic among the American people.

Memari adds that perhaps the announcement of the investigation was intentionally timed for after the US midterm elections.

“It’s possible that the administration didn’t want to risk it having any impact on the election, but given the importance of other issues on the mind of voters such as inflation and abortion, it is unlikely it would have played a significant role,” he said.

In any case, Silverman suggests that the FBI’s ability to investigate Abu Akleh’s death will be very limited. He said that the FBI “has an office in the embassy to Israel which they call a legal attaché. They have a legal attaché in many friendly embassies, and they have one in the embassy in Israel too.”

“But that person’s ability to conduct an investigation is frankly nonexistent,” he added. “That person usually serves as a liaison with local police and local security authorities.”

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