Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter is in London for the first time in more than a decade, following a change in a law that had kept the former Shin Bet chief and other Israeli officials from setting foot in the United Kingdom.
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.
Dichter and other 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. 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.
Channel 2 News reported on Monday night that Dichter, still cautious, brought with him to London an unusually large contingent of bodyguards, and that he is staying in a hotel very close to the Israeli Embassy.