Shaul Mofaz faces possible arrest on London trip

Ex-defense minister does not have diplomatic immunity to head off bid to hold him for alleged war crimes; Israeli diplomats to meet him at airport

Shaul Mofaz at a Jerusalem press conference in January 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)
Shaul Mofaz at a Jerusalem press conference in January 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in London were scrambling Saturday evening to arrange diplomatic immunity ahead of a visit by former defense minister and ex-IDF chief Shaul Mofaz in London, where there are fears he could face possible arrest over alleged war crimes.

Mofaz, the former head of the now-defunct Kadima party, did not arrange for immunity ahead of the trip, according to Channel 2.

The Foreign Ministry said two diplomats from the Israeli embassy were en route to Heathrow Airport to meet Mofaz and were prepared to deal with any eventuality.

Before the flight, Britain’s Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould told Mofaz and the embassy that his efforts to obtain immunity for Mofaz were unsuccessful. Mofaz decided to go ahead with the trip regardless, said the Channel 2 report.

Mofaz was expected to attend a conference on Monday where other Israeli politicians including Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and head of the Israeli opposition Isaac Herzog will also be present.

UK lawyers representing pro-Palestinian groups have repeatedly taken advantage of legal loopholes and sought to have Israeli officials visiting the country arrested for alleged breaches of international law under terms of universal jurisdiction.

In 2011, Britain changed the law to make it more difficult to obtain arrest warrants against Israeli figures by requiring the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. But the amended law helps those visiting Britain in an official capacity. Those making trips of a personal nature are left vulnerable.

A favorite target before the law was amended was former justice minister and head of the Hatnua party Tzipi Livni, who several times avoided efforts by activists to have her arrested while on trips to the UK.

Just last week, Livni avoided possible arrest when she attended the Fortune Most Powerful Women International Summit in London, which could have been considered a personal visit, leaving her unprotected. To preempt the problem Livni arranged to meet with senior UK government officials, enabling the Knesset speaker to approve her travel as an official visit. Anti-Israeli activists had applied to have an arrest warrant issued for Livni, who was foreign minister during the 2008-2009 war in the Gaza Strip.

In 2009, ahead of a planned visit by Livni, a British court issued a warrant for Livni over alleged war crimes committed by the IDF during the three-week conflict. She did not go through with that trip.

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