British police halted Almog arrest

UK authorities wouldn't board plane to arrest general due to concerns over armed marshals.

doron almog aj 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
doron almog aj 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
LONDON - British police halted their attempt to arrest a former Israeli general on war crimes charges following his arrival at London's Heathrow Airport in 2005, fearing an armed confrontation, according to a BBC report on Tuesday. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, former OC Southern Command, evaded arrest by heeding a warning not to disembark from an El Al flight in September 2005. British detectives were waiting to arrest him for allegedly ordering the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza in 2002. The BBC claimed to have seen documents revealing that police were concerned about a clash with Israeli air marshals on the plane and thus Almog was able to return home. According to the BBC, documents show that the senior counter-terrorism officer responsible for the operation could not get confirmation that his team had the right to board the plane, and allegedly El Al refused them permission. "Another consideration was that El Al flights carried armed air marshals, which raised issues around public safety," explained Detective Supt. John MacBrayne, the head of the operation. "There was also no intelligence as to whether Almog would have been travelling with personal security as befitted his status, armed or otherwise." MacBrayne concluded there were "real risks" to the police and to the public and he was concerned about the "international impact of a potentially armed police operation at an airport." Palestinian campaigners have filed private criminal complaints of "war crimes" against Israel military personnel by using a loophole in Britain's Universal Jurisdiction Legislation, since the law does not require the "war criminals" to be citizens of Britain and the alleged crimes did not have to be committed on British soil. London law firm Hickman and Rose, led by Israeli-born lawyer Daniel Machover, has been able to successfully exploit the law. Machover said that police did not need permission to board the airplane and that they could also have stopped it from taking off until Almog had been arrested. He said they should have told the airline: "You're on British soil, we're coming aboard." News of the arrest warrant leaked to the Israeli Embassy in London, which then tipped off Almog, who was going to London on behalf of a charity he represented. The Guardian newspaper said in its report on the incident that Almog had "hidden" on the plane for two hours before "flying off to escape justice." A spokesman for the Independent Police Complaints Commission said its review had not identified the leak and concluded that police had not broken any rules by failing to board the aircraft to execute the warrant. Speaking on the BBC on Tuesday, former head of the Metropolitan Police's Flying Squad John O'Connor said: "All they needed to do was stop the plane from taking off and negotiate through the Foreign Office." In 2006, Gaza Division commander Brig-Gen Aviv Kochavi, who was scheduled to study at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London, was warned by an IDF judge that he could be arrested on arrival in England, and Kochavi subsequently canceled his trip to the UK. Former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Avi Dichter also canceled a trip last year out of concern that a warrant might be issued for his arrest. Israel's new ambassador to London Ron Prosor said at a reception at the House of Commons earlier this month that the law was detrimental to relations between Israel and the UK and that officials were working to amend the law.