The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday summoned the British envoy to Israel to rebuke him over the arrest warrant issued for Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni for alleged war crimes in Gaza.
Israel views the arrest warrant with utmost gravity, Naor Gilon, deputy director at the Foreign Ministry in charge of Western Europe, told British ambassador Tom Phillips.
Gilon also called on Phillips to urge his government to change the law that allows for arrest warrants to be issued against senior Israeli officials over alleged war crimes perpetrated in Gaza during the winter conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday issued a statement saying that Israel will not agree to have its leaders be recognized as war criminals.
“We will not accept a situation in which Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni will be summoned to the defendants’ chair,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Livni served as foreign minister alongside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak during the Israel Defense Forces offensive in Gaza. The three figures comprised the “troika” of top decision-makers who charted the course of the war.
“We will not agree to have Israel Defense Forces soldiers, who defended the citizens of Israel bravely and ethically against a cruel and criminal enemy, be recognized as war criminals. We completely reject this absurdity taking place in Britain,” the premier added.
Netanyahu also instructed National Security Council adviser Uzi Arad to call the British envoy on Tuesday to protest the move. Arad stressed to Phillips that Israel expects Britain to quash the “immoral act that allows arrest warrants to be issued against Israeli officials and harms Israel’s right to self-defense.”
A statement from the British embassy in Israel said the U.K. is determined to work for peace in the Middle East and to be a strategic partner to Israel.
“To do this, Israel’s leaders need to be able to come to the U.K. for talks with the British government. We are looking urgently at the implications of this case.” The embassy statement said.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry earlier Tuesday called on the British government to end the “absurd situation” in which arrest warrants were being issued to Israeli officials over alleged war crimes in Gaza, warning that ties between the two countries could suffer as a result.
“Only actions can put an end to this absurd situation, which would have seemed a comedy of errors were it not so serious,” said the Foreign Ministry, a day after it emerged that Livni had canceled her trip to Britain after a warrant was issued for her arrest.
The ministry warned that in indulging the arrest warrant, the British government was hampering its own efforts at playing a role in Middle East peace negotiations.
“We appreciate the British government’s desire to play a central role in the Middle East peace process, and thus we expected it to translate the importance it gives its relations with Israel into actions,” said the ministry.
“Israel urges the British government to once and for all honor its promises to take action to prevent anti-Israel forces from exploiting the British legal system to act against Israel and its citizens, the ministry said. The absence of resolute and immediate action to redress this distortion harms relations between the two countries,” it added.
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom urged the ministry to make “real diplomatic” efforts to make it clear that Israel would not accept such behavior.
“We are all Tzipi Livni,” he said. “The time has come for us to move from the defensive to the offensive. We must use real diplomacy here, to tell Britain, Spain and all those other states that we will not stand for this anymore.”
Livni: World can judge us, but don’t equate IDF with terrorist
In response to the warrant, Livni said Tuesday that she would not accept any accusation that compared Israel Defense Forces soldiers to terrorists.
“I have no problem with the fact that the world wants to judge Israel,” said Livni. “We are part of the free world. The problem starts when they equate terrorists and Israeli soldiers.”
Senior officials in Israel confirmed reports on Monday that a British court issued the warrant against Livni for her role in orchestrating Israel’s military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip nearly a year ago. The request for the warrant was submitted by a pro-Palestinian organization.
British sources reported late Monday that though a British court had issued an arrest warrant for Livni over war crimes allegedly committed in Gaza while she served as foreign minister, it annulled it upon discovering she was not in the U.K.
The incident was the latest in a string of attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to have Israeli officials arrested.
Pro-Palestinian lawyers attempted earlier this year to invoke the universal jurisdiction law to arrest Gaza war mastermind Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, but his status as a Cabinet minister gave him diplomatic immunity.
In 2005, a retired Israeli general, Doron Almog, returned to Israel immediately after landing in London because he was tipped off that British police planned to arrest him. The warrant against Almog - who oversaw the bombing of a Gaza home in which 14 people were killed - was later canceled.
Other Israeli leaders, including former military chief Moshe Ya’alon and ex-internal security chief Avi Dichter, have also canceled trips to Britain in recent years for the same reason.