Conduct by Netanyahu aides 'shocked' UK Foreign Office

Report: PM’s refusal to coordinate diplomatic immunity put Gantz at risk of arrest in UK

British authorities ensured visiting war cabinet minister had the necessary protections after the Foreign Ministry, on Netanyahu’s orders, ceased working with them, TV report says

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz (L) meets with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) and UK National Security Adviser Tim Barrow (C) in London on March 6, 2024. (David Cameron/X)
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz (L) meets with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) and UK National Security Adviser Tim Barrow (C) in London on March 6, 2024. (David Cameron/X)

The Prime Minister’s Office’s reported refusal to help coordinate war cabinet minister Benny Gantz’s trip to the UK this week, including on matters related to his security, exposed Gantz and his delegation to potential legal troubles, including lawsuits and arrest warrants relating to the war in Gaza, a TV report said Thursday.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was infuriated by Gantz’s overseas visit, which the minister arranged without his consent, and which started in Washington on Sunday and continued in London on Wednesday.

Concerned that pro-Palestinian activists might file legal motions against Gantz or even seek his arrest, the UK Foreign Office reached out to the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry before the war cabinet minister’s arrival in order to coordinate in ensuring that he would receive diplomatic immunity, Channel 12 reported on Thursday.

The UK foreign office sought to extend official status to Gantz’s visit but quickly encountered trouble, the report said.

Having initially begun working with the British authorities to ensure that Gantz would have protected status and having received Gantz’s details from the war cabinet minister’s office, the Israeli Foreign Ministry — after a few hours — stopped responding to the UK Foreign Office, according to Channel 12, which said the British office was “shocked” by the developments.

Not wanting to take any chances of an international incident on its soil, the UK Foreign Office turned to the British embassy in Israel to successfully complete the process of providing official state status and diplomatic immunity to Gantz and the delegation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Wednesday, Channel 12 reported that at Netanyahu’s instruction, Israeli Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely — a former Likud lawmaker — ordered embassy staff not to assist the Shin Bet with making security arrangements for Gantz’s visit, among them logistical matters such as transportation and lodging.

That report stressed that Gantz’s security would not be harmed, because Gantz’s own staff and the relevant Israeli entity took care of various unspecified arrangements and coordinated them with the British authorities.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Thursday’s report and Netanyahu’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Channel 12 that the matter had nothing to do with him.

Netanyahu issued a similar directive to the Israeli embassy in Washington, which was barred from coordinating with Gantz’s office before and during his trip, the Israeli official said. Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog did not accompany Gantz during any of his meetings with top Biden officials as is custom on such visits.

Netanyahu was said to have been unaware of the trip until Gantz, who leads the National Unity party, called him on Friday to inform the prime minister of his plans and discuss what messages to convey to the Americans.

The Ynet news outlet first reported on Saturday details of the trip and an allegedly tense phone conversation between Netanyahu and Gantz about the visit.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz (L) meets with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron in London on March 6, 2024. (David Cameron/X)

A source close to Netanyahu said the premier “made it clear to Minister Gantz that the State of Israel only has one prime minister,” Ynet reported.

The source said the trip was organized without the prime minister’s approval and contrary to government regulations that require “every minister to clear travel in advance with the prime minister, including approval of the travel plan.”

However, a Saturday statement from Gantz’s office confirmed the trip was going ahead and gave details on the upcoming meetings.

“Minister Gantz personally updated the prime minister on his own initiative on Friday of his intention to travel, in order to coordinate the messages to be transmitted in the meetings,” Gantz’s office said.

A former military chief and defense minister, Gantz is Netanyahu’s main political rival in opinion polls. Gantz brought his National Unity party into the government after the October 7 attack by Palestinian terror group Hamas that triggered the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

His visit to the US came as the Biden administration has grown increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu and his government which is seen as beholden to its far-right members.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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