Retired Israeli Maj.Gen. Danny Rothschild was forced to cut short a scheduled visit to London this week, and cancel two planned lectures there, after the Israeli embassy warned him he was in danger of being arrested if he stayed in the country.
This comes a day after Knesset member and former Labor leader Amir Peretz was also forced to cut short a London visit, for the same reason.
Rothschild, who coordinated IDF operations in the Palestinian territories in the early 1990s during the first Intifada, entered the UK without any problems earlier this week and on Monday gave a lecture to a large crowd at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Whitehall.
He was due to give a speech in parliament on Tuesday, organized by the Henry Jackson Society, as well as to appear before another think tank – but pulled out of both events, and instead hurried out of the country, taking the Eurostar to France -- so as to avoid passport control at Heathrow-- and flying home Tuesday night.
According to sources familiar with the story, Rothschild initially wanted to stay in the country as planned and partake in the scheduled events – but was prevailed upon by the embassy, where it was generally believed he should preempt any possible problems and leave immediately.
This, in the wake of several reports Monday in the media questioning why Rothschild was being given the red carpet treatment, at a time that Sheikh Raed Salah was being detained.
There was fear that the Home Office, not wanting to seem partial, would try to balance out the Salah arrest by arresting Rothschild, said the source.
The embassy in London had no comment on the events.
A lawyer who is active in lodging universal jurisdiction warrants in Britain would not deny or confirm that either Rothschild or Peretz were to be targeted.
He did say however, that these requests for arrest warrants are not done as publicity stunts, but rather were always presented in an organized manner and in genuine cases which victims wished to pursue.
In December, a Police and Social Responsibility Bill passed the power to issue universal jurisdiction warrants to the Director of Public Prosecutions, when it previously lay with individual magistrates.
In practice, this means it would be much harder—although not impossible-- for courts to issue the arrest warrants. The new system would also delay proceedings, so that any suspect would have ample time to evade arrest by leaving the country.
However, the bill still needs to be approved in parliament to take effect, a process that could take months.
British Ambassador in Israel Matthew Gould said Wednesday that "an amendment to the law has already passed the House of Commons, and is currently making its way through the Lords. It is expected to become law later in the year."
He added that "the proposed change will help ensure that arrest warrants are not granted when there is no realistic chance of prosecution. It will prevent the law from being misused for political reasons. We remain committed to upholding international justice, and continue to believe that those guilty of war crimes must be brought to justice. The change in the law will not affect our ability to do so."