Miliband dismissed Barak ‘war crimes’ prosecution bid

By Leon Symons and Anshel Pfeffer, October 1, 2009

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has delivered a withering riposte to an attempt by Palestinian supporters to have Ehud Barak arrested in Britain as a war criminal.

Addressing the Labour Friends of Israel fringe meeting, Mr Miliband warned: “This will never become a country where ministers of Israel are unable to come and have proper dialogue with the government of the United Kingdom.”

Earlier in the day, lawyers acting for 16 Palestinian families applied unsuccessfully to Westminster Magistrates’ Court for the warrant.

Deputy district Judge Daphne Wickham said: “I am satisfied that under customary international law, Mr Barak has immunity from prosecution as he would not be able to perform his functions efficiently if he were the subject of criminal proceedings in this jurisdiction.”

Mr Barak had been invited by the Labour Party as a conference guest in Brighton. He arrived at the weekend and held talks with Gordon Brown and Mr Miliband, as well speaking at the LFI event. But he gave no press conferences before leaving on Wednesday.

The tactic of attempting to have Israelis arrested for alleged war crimes began in 2005, when retired IDF head of Southern Command Major General Doron Almog was forced to sit in an El Al plane at Heathrow rather than risk arrest. There was also an attempt to arrest politician and former IDF chief Shaul Mofaz.

Senior IDF officers now have to co-ordinate their travel plans with a committee comprising legal experts from the army and the Justice and Foreign ministries to minimise the risk of arrest in countries including Britain.

In every meeting with their British counterparts, Israeli leaders have demanded that Britain changes the laws enabling private citizens to request arrest warrants for foreigners on war crimes charges. Assurances were given by Mr Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair. Israeli diplomats were also promised that the Tories would not oppose such a measure in Parliament.

Yet six months ago, the Foreign Office discreetly notified the Israeli government that, given public reaction to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the changes would not possible be in the near future.

Last updated: 5:18pm, October 1 2009