Olmert said to cancel Switzerland trip over threat of arrest for ‘war crimes’

Defense, justice officials persuade ex-premier who oversaw Gaza and Lebanon conflicts to scrap visit, TV news reports

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert attends a celebration at Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan in northern Israel on March 31, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert attends a celebration at Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan in northern Israel on March 31, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert recently canceled a trip to Switzerland over fears authorities there were planning to detain him on suspicion of war crimes, according to a television report on Wednesday.

Olmert, who was prime minister during the 2006 Second Lebanon War and the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, was scheduled to arrive in Zurich on Monday.

However, defense and justice officials warned Olmert to change his plans after Swiss authorities informed Israeli officials over the weekend that the former Israeli leader would be detained for questioning upon his landing.

Despite the alert, Olmert initially insisted on going anyway, the Channel 12 report said. It was only after justice and defense officials stressed that his detention would be a great embarrassment to Israel that he agreed to cancel the visit, the report said.

A large smokey fire burns out of control inside the Gaza Strip near during IDF Operation Cast Lead 15 January 2009. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Olmert reportedly argued he could defend ordering the military operations in Gaza and Lebanon because in both cases Israel was fighting against terror groups.

Naftali Bennett, No. 2 in the New Right party, who was a member of the high-level security cabinet during Israel’s last major military conflict in Gaza Strip in 2014, scorned Switzerland after the television report aired.

“Israel, unlike Switzerland, does not have the luxury of claiming neutrality, and sitting out conflicts,” Bennett tweeted. “Our enemies seek our total destruction. The Government of Israel must make clear to the Swiss Government it will not tolerate attempts to prosecute any Israeli for defending our people.”

The Second Lebanon War was a 34-day conflict in 2006 between the IDF and the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. It was sparked by a Hezbollah cross-border raid in which eight IDF soldiers were killed and two were taken captive and later died of their injuries. During the fighting, 165 Israelis and two foreign citizens were killed. On the Lebanese side, over 1,100 were killed including several hundred Hezbollah fighters.

Operation Cast Lead was a three-week conflict between armed Palestinian terror groups and the Israel Defense Forces in 2008-2009 which Israel said was aimed at stopping Palestinian rocket fire into the country. Thirteen Israelis and over 1,100 Palestinians were reportedly killed. It ended with a unilateral ceasefire on January 18, 2009.

Olmert, 73, was prime minister from 2006 to 2009. In July 2017, he was released from prison after serving a 16-month sentence on corruption charges.

There have been several attempts over the years by anti-Israel activists to have senior Israeli officials arrested for war crimes during trips aboard.

Hatnua party chief Tzipi Livni holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on February 18, 2019, announcing her departure from politics. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In 2016, Tzipi Livni, who was a cabinet minister during the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead, dodged arrest in the UK after anti-Israel activists sought a warrant, citing alleged war crimes. Livni used a legal loophole to have a private visit to London registered as an official visit by an Israeli lawmaker, enabling her to receive diplomatic immunity. That incident encouraged British authorities to alter laws regarding the issue of arrest warrants over alleged war crimes committed outside the country.

In 2009, Livni canceled a trip to London over fears she would be arrested under a similar warrant.

In 2011, activists applied for a war crimes arrest warrant against visiting Labor Party leader MK Amir Peretz, who was defense minister during the Second Lebanon War. Peretz went ahead with the trip but was able to avoid detention by moving up his return flight and leaving before the arrest could be carried out.

Amir Peretz delivers a speech at a Labor party conference in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

In 2006 the Ynet website reported that three Moroccan lawyers filed war crimes lawsuits against Peretz, who has Moroccan citizenship, as it his country of birth.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed