IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz arrived in London on Tuesday in the first such official visit in over a decade. Top generals have refrained from visiting the country in recent years due to the threat of arrest on charges of war crimes.
An IDF spokesman told The Times of Israel that Gantz was to be hosted by his UK peer Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Julian Richards and will hold meetings with local security chiefs. Among the topics on the agenda are military cooperation, joint security challenges and the overall situation in the Middle East
Between the years 2009 and 2012 Israeli ministers and high-ranking IDF officers avoided traveling to the UK out of concern that they may be arrested on charges of war crimes that were lodged by pro-Palestinian lobbyists.
Following Israel’s assassination of Palestinian arch-terrorist Salah Shehadeh in 2002, pro-Palestinian groups spurred efforts to have Israeli military and political figures arrested in Britain for alleged war crimes committed abroad, exploiting a loophole in British law enabling universal jurisdiction.
As a result senior Israeli politicians and defense officials avoided official visits to London for several years. Tzipi Livni — foreign minister during Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2008-9 — was forced to cancel a visit later in 2009 after being warned that she faced arrest over alleged war crimes during the three-week long IDF campaign in the Gaza Strip that aimed to stop rocket fire from the coastal enclave into Israel. In perhaps the most famous incident, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog flew to London in 2005 to raise funds for a charity but, upon arrival, was advised not to disembark from the plane so as not to officially set foot on British soil and face arrest.
In 2011, however, the law was amended so that Britain’s director of Public Prosecutions would be required to give his consent if a group calls for an arrest warrant to be issued on the grounds of universal jurisdiction, effectively closing the loophole. Livni eventually visited Britain in 2011 to meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
In December 2012, then home front defense minister Avi Dichter, who was formerly the head of the Shin Bet internal security service, also made an official visit to London.