Deputy FM: Arrest Warrants Harming Britain-Israel Ties

IDF officers cancel U.K. trip for fear of arrest; British AG acknowledges urgent need to address issue.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Tuesday met Tuesday with British Attorney General Baroness Patricia Janet Scotland to protest the slew of arrest warrants issued against senior Israeli officials in the United Kingdom.

A delegation of senior Israel Defense Forces officers recently canceled a planned visit to the U.K. for fear they would be arrested upon landing.

The four unidentified officers, holding ranks from major to colonel, are the latest in a string of Israeli politicians and military officials forced to call off travel to Britain over fears of legal prosecution relating to last year's offensive on the Gaza Strip.

Britain is one of the European pioneers of universal jurisdiction, a broad legal concept that empowers judges to issue arrest warrants for nearly any visitor accused of committing war crimes anywhere in the world.

Pro-Palestinian activists have sought to use this concept to press charges against Israelis involved in military operations in Palestinian territories, particularly since last year's Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. British officials have vowed to change the law.

Ayalon said the warrants issued against senior Israeli officials "make it difficult for the two countries to maintain a normal relationship."

He also stressed that the majority of Israeli citizens have served in the IDF, and as such would be unable to visit the U.K., which Ayalon said would damage British interests as well.

Scotland said she was aware of the urgent need to address the warrants being issued in her country against Israeli officials over alleged war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Ayalon on Tuesday appealed to Scotland to find an immediate solution to the "intolerable" situation, warning that the U.K. legal system's acceptance of pro-Palestinian group's lawsuits threatened to "undermine relations" between the two countries.

"If the British law remains unchanged, this would undermine the good relations between the two countries who share common values and interests. The British must bear in mind that these visits serve both countries," he said.

The Israeli delegation had been invited to visit by the British army. But officials said they were forced to call off the trip after their British counterparts could not guarantee that they would not be arrested.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter has become a sore point in relations with Britain. Neither the Israeli military nor the British government would comment.

Last month, pro-Palestinian activists persuaded a London judge to issue an arrest warrant for Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister during the war in Gaza last year. The warrant was withdrawn after Livni canceled her trip, but the matter strained relations between Britain and Israel.

More than 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed in the three-week offensive, which was launched to stop years of rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel. Thirteen Israelis were also killed. A UN investigation accused both Israel and Hamas militants of committing war crimes during the fighting.

The threat of arrest has forced several former security officials to call off trips to London, including a former general who remained holed up on an airplane at Heathrow Airport in order to avoid arrest. Last fall, Defense Minister Ehud Barak fended off an arrest attempt by successfully arguing he had diplomatic immunity.

In Britain, pro-Palestinian groups have condemned moves to reform the law.

"We believe no attempt should be made [to change the law]," said Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain. "There's no reason why Israel should be singled out for special treatment. If they're accused of war crimes, we have a duty - and legislation - to prosecute."