IDF officer cancels trip; fears arrest

IDF says threats of arrest in London need to be solved through diplomacy.

aviv kochavi in field  (photo credit: IDF [file])
aviv kochavi in field
(photo credit: IDF [file])
The IDF Judge Advocate General's office on Monday called on the diplomatic echelon to work to find a solution to the threat of arrest hanging over the heads of senior IDF soldiers in Western European countries. On Sunday, Brig.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, commander of the Gaza Division, decided to cancel plans to study at the prestigious Royal College of Defense Studies in England over the summer out of fear he would be arrested and tried for war crimes. IDF Judge Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avi Mandelblit warned Kochavi that while a warrant had yet to be issued against him, he could be arrested for his actions during the Intifada and Israel's hands would be tied in helping him. "We shouldn't take any chances," a senior officer said Monday. "If an IDF officer is arrested in one of these countries he could be charged and put on trial and our hands will be tied." Mandelblit, the army said, issued travel guidelines for the IDF and recommended that senior officers from the rank of colonel and up refrain from traveling to England, Spain, Germany and additional Western European countries out of fear they might be arrested and tried for war crimes for their actions during the present Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Officers who insist on traveling to these countries, the IDF said needed to consult with Mandelblit on a personal basis since each case would be evaluated independently. "Not every officer is in danger," one official said. "Only those who commanded troops during the Intifada and are publicly known have to be cautious." Kochavi was not the first officer to decide not to enter England. Half-a-year-ago, former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog skipped arrest after he was warned not to disembark from his plane that had landed in London since detectives were waiting to detain him on suspicion of war crimes. On Monday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called on European nations to eliminate clauses in their legal systems that permitted the indictment of senior IDF officers for war crimes. The officers, Mofaz said, would receive the Israeli defense establishment's full support. "This problem needs to be solved on a diplomatic level," security officials said Monday. "We need to somehow convince those European countries to pass new legislation." In Belgium, legislation was passed to amend laws that had allowed for an indictment to be filed against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for alleged war crimes. The new Belgian law states that Belgian courts cannot try anyone who comes from a country which has a proper legal system according to a list of such countries drafted by the Belgian government. Israel is included in the list. Following the Almog case, Justice Ministry considered ways to encourage European countries to amend their laws that could ensnare IDF officials, and the Foreign Ministry has a committee examining the issue. The Foreign Ministry refused to comment on whether the committee had made any progress. Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.