IDF Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog
IDF Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog Israel News Photo: (file)

The British government has reneged on a promise to amend a law that currently allows private citizens to charge foreigners with war crimes.

Once charges are pressed, the next step is liable to be an indictment, followed by an arrest warrant.

The law has been used against former IDF officers and other Israeli officials who visit Britain, who have been prevented from traveling to Britain as a result.

Both the current Labor government under Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the prior Labor administration under former Prime Minister Tony Blair have promised to amend the legislation to stop the practice.  The change would require the approval of the country's chief prosecutor before private citizens could press charges of war crimes against foreign nationals.

However, Israeli government officials were surprised to learn that the Brown administration is backing away from its commitment to push for a change in the law.

Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni received a "back channel" message on Sunday that said the amendment probably would not pass before next year's elections.

Israel's deteriorating image, which the British said was caused by the IDF's counterterrorist Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, was named as the cause of the reversal. The British Foreign Office referred to it in a statement as "a complex legal issue."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor reiterated over the weekend, however, that the British government "did make such a promise and we continue to expect that they will find a way to fulfill it."

IDF Major-General (res.) Doron Almog almost became the British law's first high-profile Israeli victim of trumped-up war crimes charges in 2005 while on his way to visit friends in the country. The charges stemmed from demolition of Arab homes in the Gaza border town of Rafiah during his tenure as head of the IDF's Southern Command.

Almog received last-minute information during the flight that an arrest warrant and a pair of handcuffs awaited him on the tarmac – warning enough to prevent him from disembarking from the plane. Instead, he remained on the aircraft and returned to Tel Aviv.

It was for this reason, among others, that the IDF cranked up its ability to connect with the public and provided media with constantly updated photos and other information of what was happening in the field during the three-week Gaza military campaign. That evidence has provided clear documentation of what was -- and was not -- true about the IDF's pinpoint attacks on terrorist targets in the Hamas-ruled region.

Similar Law, Similar Strategy in Spain

A similar law appears on the books in Spain, where political organizations in Madrid attempted to target Israeli defense officials earlier this year.

Charges were filed in a Madrid courtroom just days after Operation Cast Lead ended, charging IDF defense officials with "war crimes" in the 2002 assassination of senior Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh.

Spanish government officials said at the time that they would attempt to "adjust" or "modify" the 1870 law of universal jurisdiction that created the problem, but it was not clear to what extent an effort would be made to resolve the dilemma created by the charges filed in connection with the Shehadeh assassination.

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