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Shaul Mofaz lands in London without incident

Ex-defense minister did not face arrest, as Foreign Ministry had feared after diplomatic immunity proved elusive

Shaul Mofaz attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting, January 09, 2014. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Shaul Mofaz attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting, January 09, 2014. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Former defense minister Shaul Mofaz landed in London’s Heathrow Airport Saturday night without incident, after fears his lack of diplomatic immunity could make him vulnerable to possible arrest for alleged war crimes upon his arrival.

The Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in London scrambled Saturday evening to arrange immunity for Mofaz ahead of the visit, since he is no longer a member of Knesset and his visit would have been of a private nature. Mofaz arrived in London to attend a conference Monday which will also include the presence of Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and head of the Israeli opposition Isaac Herzog.

Two diplomats from the Israeli embassy were sent to the airport to greet Mofaz, a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff, and deal with any situation that could have arisen.

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

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 served as defense minister from 2002-2006 and as IDF chief of staff before then from 1998-2002, years which included the deadly Second Intifada marked by Palestinian suicide bombings.

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 law applies to 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 has repeatedly avoided attempts to activists to seek her arrest 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 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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