An Israeli reserve colonel who came to speak in Britain last week was forced to return home.
The officer, Geva Rapp, a deputy commander of Israel’s Gaza offensive, was scheduled to speak to mainly student audiences during a six-day visit.
But his tour came to an abrupt end after details of last Thursday’s event at the London Jewish student centre leaked out on the internet.
It sparked a demonstration that led to three arrests after one of the protestors climbed up to the first floor of the building and banged against the windows where the meeting was due to be held, although Colonel Rapp was not in the building.
The decision last week by a Spanish judge to bring charges against seven Israeli officers and officials over the 2002 assassination of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh served as a further reminder to the Israeli authorities that IDF officers who participated in Operation Cast Lead might also be charged.
In Britain and Spain, laws allowing for universal jurisdiction over war crimes have been used against Israelis, but there is a worry now over arrest warrants that can be issued throughout the EU and of an attempt by prosecutors in the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate alleged war crimes.
After concerns among Israeli officials that Col Rapp might similarly be arrested, he left Britain on Thursday evening.
Col Rapp was in the IDF for 25 years. He retired five years ago to run Panim El Panim, an Orthodox bridge-building organisation, and was brought back from retirement to serve in the Gaza operation. He came to Britain under the auspices of Aish UK.
Aish’s chief executive, Rabbi Naftali Schiff, said: “Aish was approached by Col Rapp and his friends here to bring him over. He came to correct some of the lies that have been told about what has happened in Gaza.
“I raised the issue of security with him and he assured me that he had contacted the relevant authorities in Israel. After that, I contacted the Community Security Trust, the UJS and the Israeli Embassy, so every precaution was taken in the most responsible way.”
The Israeli Justice Ministry and the IDF are preparing a detailed legal defence for potential war crimes prosecution in the UK and Spain over the Gaza operation. Meanwhile, senior IDF officers have been instructed to keep a low profile during visits to European countries.
Israel is putting pressure on the relevant governments to make the necessary changes in their legislation so that private citizens and organisations cannot bring war crimes charges against Israelis. Despite promises by the British government, no legislative changes have yet been laid before Parliament.
Meanwhile, legal experts in the Justice Ministry and the IDF’s International Law Unit are working on challenges to these charges. In case any actually reach a courtroom, the IDF is working on a detailed account of all its actions in Gaza during the operation.
It has video and other evidence on all the airborne and ground attacks, each house in the Gaza Strip is numbered and a final list of all Palestinians killed during the operation is near completion.