By JPOST.COM STAFF, GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
A British court recently issued an arrest warrant for Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, The Guardian reported Monday night, confirming earlier reports to that effect.
Al-Jazeera had reported Monday that Livni declined a request to lecture in Britain due to fears of being arrested. The court reportedly issued the arrest warrant against Livni for alleged "war crimes" committed during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last winter, when she was foreign minister. It apparently annulled the warrant shortly afterwards upon realizing that Livni was not in the UK at the time.
Livni's office and the Foreign Ministry refuted the report, saying the Kadima leader had canceled the visit only due to her inability to obtain a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Livni was invited a month ago to address the Jewish National Fund UK's annual conference in London, but two weeks ago she turned down the invitation because Brown would be abroad at the time. Instead, she addressed the conference by video.
"The opposition leader is proud of all her decisions connected to Operation Cast Lead," Livni's office said in a statement. "The operation achieved its goal of defending the people of Israel and restoring Israel's deterrence. Livni will continue presenting her view everywhere around the world."
Livni herself said in September that she was prepared to stand trial at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to defend the actions of the IDF.
"There have already been petitions against me in various countries," Livni said. "I was a partner to the decisions in the operation in Gaza. They were right, I believe in the morality of the IDF soldiers, and if they try to indict me, I am prepared to come say such things if necessary."
Israeli ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor met with officials in the British Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry, who denied that there had been any warrant issued or requested for Livni's arrest.
The British Foreign Office reacted with great concern to reports of such a warrant. "The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East and to be a strategic partner of Israel. To do this, Israel's leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British government," it said in a statement. "We are looking urgently at the implications of this case."
Foreign Ministry officials speculated that once it was known that Livni had planned on visiting Britain, one of the pro-Palestinian groups there likely spread the word that they had requested an arrest warrant. Legal officials in the Foreign Ministry said Livni lacked diplomatic immunity that could protect her from arrest.
JNF UK chairman Samuel Hayek said it was "regrettable that the British Government is unable to conduct free dialogue with Israel's most senior statesmen and politicians."
Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem accused the UK of hypocrisy because it was willing to put Livni on trial for defending Israel from Hamas rocket attacks, while British soldiers who killed innocent civilians in Afghanistan were not arrested.
At the the opening of the Knesset's winter session in October, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to calls for the indictment of Israeli leaders and soldiers over Cast Lead, saying that Israel would not allow them to be tried at The Hague.
"We will not agree to a situation in which [former prime minister] Ehud Olmert, [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, who sent IDF soldiers to defend cities and civilians, will be called to the defendants' benches at The Hague," Netanyahu said. "Israel's basic rights to self-defense and to exist as a Jewish state are under continued attack, which has become even stronger following the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. Our first mission is to repel them."
Herb Keinon, Rebecca Anna Stoil and Jonny Paul contributed to this report.
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