In a sign that the rules of the diplomatic game may be changing for Israel, several top Israeli officials, including the ex-chief of Military Intelligence, were detained by British officials as they attempted to enter the country via Heathrow Airport. Most of the officials were heavily involved in the Gaza Wars and are a focus of the International Criminal Courts. After most of a day of being held in custody, the officials were allowed to board a plane and return to Israel.
It is a bit of irony since this is a tactic Israel routinely uses against critics. If you are a critic of Israel, it is not unusual to be detained at customs, thrown into a jail cell and then barred for several years from re-entrying the country. Typically, a person is forced to ‘voluntarily’ sign a document saying they agreed to be deported for a number of years. If the person doesn’t sign, there is a trial and deportation anyway for twice the length initially offered. Normally, Israel bars its critics for 5-10 years and the list of those kicked out – for no other reason than the government doesn’t like their political stances- is long and distinguished.
These Israeli officials are however, basically wanted for war crimes. Truth is, they probably should’ve been arrested and turned over to the Hague for trial. However, I am sure there were backroom phone calls going on between Heathrow, Whitehall, and Jerusalem and the guys at Number 10 didn’t want to create an international crisis. Thus, the officials were quietly put back on a plane and word of the detentions didn’t leak out until after the fact.
How to handle leaders charged with war crimes is a growing problem. Recently the President of Sudan was placed under house arrest in South Africa due to an ICC warrant. However, like the Israelis, he was allowed to slip out of the country while everyone’s back was turned.South Africa didn’t want a diplomatic dust up any more than the Brits did.
The fact there are detentions at all is a signal that the rules are changing. Before, governments would’ve openly ignored any charges and welcomed Israeli officials as honored guests. It is a sign of the deterioration of Israel’s relations with the rest of the world under Netanyahu that the political environment has shifted away from Israel. Netanyahu’s rhetoric and threats may be good politics at home but it is killing Israel’s stature with the rest of the world. There are growing calls for these officials to be arrested, even in the USA. Next time, it may not be a detention but a real arrest.