FM flies to Europe despite arrest scare

Rumors of Belgian warrant against Livni for actions during Gaza operation turn out to be false alarm.

Livni press conference 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
Livni press conference 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Although rumors of a Belgian arrest warrant for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni turned out to be a false alarm on Wednesday afternoon, the incident highlighted the tenuous situation of many Israeli leaders who may face international indictments for actions taken during Operation Cast Lead. Hours before the foreign minister was set to fly to Brussels to meet with her European counterparts, rumors reached the Foreign Ministry that a group of French and Belgian attorneys were petitioning a Belgian court to issue an arrest warrant against Livni. The ministry looked in to the story, then decided to allow Livni to continue with her European visit as planned. It is highly unlikely that such an arrest warrant would be issued in Belgium against any current cabinet member. Since the high-profile Belgian case involving then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2001-2, the International Court of Justice issued a ruling that established a precedent of immunity for visiting heads of state - and likely applying to cabinet ministers as well. Even if a local magistrate was not familiar with the precedent and agreed to issue such an arrest warrant, the Belgian Foreign Ministry would likely quash it as soon as it was made aware of such a warrant. Military officers - both current and former - are definitely not protected by the ICJ precedent and remain at risk for warrants issued for their arrest, similar to the one issued in England against former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog. Almog had already landed in London in September 2005 en route to a fund-raiser for disabled children when he was advised that he would be arrested should he enter the country. But, says Dr. Gerald Steinberg, executive director of NGO Monitor and chairman of Bar-Ilan University's political studies department, the purpose of those issuing such arrest warrants - real or fictitious - is accomplished even if the figures targeted never see the inside of a court room. "The whole purpose of these sorts of activities is to get publicity and to contribute the image of Israel as responsible for war crimes and indiscriminate bombings and [such] pseudo-legal phrases," Steinberg asserted. "In performing acts like today's, they're getting their goal across even without a warrant ever issued, by attracting media attention and gaining a headline." In a similar vein, an anonymous Web site surfaced on Wednesday containing Hebrew and English versions of international arrest warrants for more than a dozen Israel political and defense leaders. While many of the offenses detailed on the "arrest warrants" are related to the recent Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, others reach as far back as the allegations involving National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezar's actions as commander of the Sayeret Shaked special forces unit in the Six Day War. The site calls on anyone who has "information about the suspects when they are outside of the Israeli borders to report immediately" to "the Prosecutor" at the Hague. The posters come complete with biographical sketches and physical descriptions of the subjects, and the contact address for "the Prosecutor" at the Hague.