Deputy FM: Arrest Warrants Harming Britain-Israel Ties

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met yesterday with Britain's attorney general Patricia Janet Scotland, who is on a private visit to Israel, to protest the issuing of arrest warrants in Britain for senior Israeli officials.

Four high-ranking Israel Defense Forces officers recently canceled a visit to the United Kingdom for fear they would be arrested upon landing, and last month a London judge issued an arrest warrant, later withdrawn, for Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister during Operation Cast Lead.

Later yesterday, in a speech at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she noted that the British government "is looking urgently at ways in which the U.K. system might be changed to avoid this situation arising again, and is determined that Israel's leaders should always be able to travel freely to the U.K."

Ayalon said the warrants "make it difficult for the two countries to maintain a normal relationship," and 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 characterized the use of arrest warrants in these circumstances as "essentially a political campaign in which any and every tactic can be used," but at the same time stressed that Britain would continue to permit war crimes prosecutions so as "not to allow safe haven for those who have carried out heinous crimes."

At the same time, she stressed that care must be taken to ensure that the tool is "effective and used for the purpose of prosecution, not for political or other purposes."

One proposal recently raised is for only the attorney general, and not any judge in the country, be authorized to issue such arrest warrants. Scotland declined to comment on the proposal, explaining that there is a "difficult and complex tension" between individual citizens' rights and the public interest in this matter.

"We have to be clear that the AG comes in at the end of the process," she said. "Energetic efforts are being made to find an effective, lawful and just ECHR-compliant system," referring to the European Court of Human Rights.