Former navy chief on Heathrow delay: I was not interrogated

Rear-Admiral Eli Marom says he was not detained by authorities, contrary to earlier reports, but whole episode was ‘unusual’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Former Israel Navy Commander Eli Marom in 2009. (Photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Former Israel Navy Commander Eli Marom in 2009. (Photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

A former Israeli Navy commander was briefly delayed by authorities and questioned at London’s Heathrow Airport on Monday.

Rear-Admiral (ret.) Eliezer “Chiney” Marom was taken aside by British authorities after landing in London, following which he called the Israeli Justice Ministry. Marom was then released in short order.

“It was very short and not a big deal,” Maron told Channel 2 TV.

“It was little more than five minutes. I wasn’t in a side room or anything. I was in the main immigration hall. They asked me a few questions, and checked my passport.”

However, the former navy commander conceded that the incident was unusual.

“It was not random, I don’t think it was random. I travel the world. And I can sense that this was something different. But I wasn’t interrogated,” he clarified.

Israel’s embassy in London confirmed to The Times of Israel that Marom was “delayed for a few minutes, then allowed to proceed.”

The British Home Office told The Times of Israel, “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”

Earlier, Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer tweeted that the incident was “due to mixup between UK authorities,” and said he was almost certain that Marom was the only one who was under the impression that he was being detained.

Marom commanded Israel’s navy from 2007 to 2011, a period that included winter 2008’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza, and the 2010 interception of the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel seeking to break the security blockade on Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in that raid, when naval commandos opened fire after coming under vicious attack when they boarded. Marom garnered praise for leading the navy’s image rehabilitation following the 2006 Lebanon War.

Anti-Israel activists have tried to use UK’s universal jurisdiction law for years against senior Israeli diplomats and military commanders by obtaining arrest warrants, but they have found limited success thus far. The law enables private citizens to petition British courts to issue arrest warrants for war crimes when foreign officials visit the UK.

Former GOC Southern Command Doron Almog was almost arrested in 2005 at Heathrow, and evaded detention by remaining on the plane and returning to Israel. In 2006, Gen. Aviv Kochavi had to cancel an academic leave in the UK after the IDF Judge Advocate-General recommended he not enter the country.

In 2011, after a concerted campaign by Israel, the United Kingdom changed its universal jurisdiction law to make it harder for activists to take advantage of the law for political reasons.

“Those accused of these grave crimes will still be brought to justice if there is sufficient evidence against them,” wrote the British government website. “However, as of today, the consent of the director of Public Prosecutions will now be required before an arrest warrant is issued in universal jurisdiction cases brought by individuals.”

“We are clear about our international obligations,” emphasized Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, “and these new changes to existing law will ensure the balance is struck between ensuring those who are accused of such heinous crimes do not escape justice and that universal jurisdiction cases are only proceeded with on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution.

“These changes are essential to ensure we do not risk damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy.”

Despite the changes, Israeli officials are not entirely confident they will be free from prosecution in the UK.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military secretary stayed home in May 2011 instead of joining an official visit. After the 2011 change in the law, Tzipi Livni, who had cancelled a trip to a 2009 conference in London, flew to Britain to meet with Foreign Secretary William Hague. However, it is unclear how protected she was, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office decided to give her last-minute diplomatic immunity by calling her visit a “special visit.”

In addition to the Israeli officials targeted, activists have tried to obtain warrants for former American secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Chinese Trade Minister Bo Xilai.

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