Top Brass Angered by Army's Ban on Officer's U.K. Travel

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Senior Israel Defense Forces officers are outraged over the army's decision to prevent one of their number from traveling to Britain for fear he might be arrested as a war criminal, charging that leading Hamas terrorists now enjoy more freedom of movement than IDF officers.

On the advice of the military advocate general, Avihai Mandelblit, the IDF decided to bar Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, the commander of the Gaza Division, from taking courses at Britain's Royal College of Defence Studies, lest left-wing activists seek an arrest order against him.

In September, former GOC Southern Command Doron Almog was forced to return to Israel from London without even getting off the plane after left-wing activists succeeded in obtaining such an order against him.

But the decision on Kochavi, first published in Haaretz on Sunday, sent shock waves through the army's high command, because it indicated that Almog's experience was not a one-time event.

The government has promised to try to deal with the problem, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni did raise it at meetings yesterday with British officials. However, it seems unlikely Israel will manage to find a solution in the near future.

"An absurd situation has been created here," one senior officer told Haaretz. "Senior Hamas figures - Khaled Meshal, and soon, certainly, Ismail Haniyeh as well - can roam the world at will, but Kochavi has to stay home for fear of being arrested. These are people who have given direct orders to carry out attacks against civilians, but now they are politicians who enjoy protection."

A Hamas delegation headed by Meshal is due to arrive in Moscow today, and senior Hamas leaders have also been invited to other countries, including South Africa and Turkey.

British law enables ordinary citizens to file private criminal complaints against people suspected of war crimes, even if the alleged crimes were not committed on British territory. At her meeting with Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells yesterday (Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was unable to attend due to illness), Livni noted that this law has created serious problems for IDF officers.

Howells responded that this is a problem for both countries, and pledged to work to find a rapid solution to it.

Both the Defense Ministry and the Chief of Staff's office also said they are trying to solve Kochavi's problem via talks with the British army and government.

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely Israel will be able to persuade either Britain or other European countries with similar laws, such as Spain, France, Sweden and Denmark, to amend them.

Belgium, the first country in which criminal complaints of this sort were filed against Israelis (including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon), did change its law, but that was in response to American pressure, after similar complaints were also filed against senior American officials.

One IDF officer said the situation indicates that the countries in question "are having trouble understanding the

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