Thanks to reader American Goy for tipping me off to this fascinating story in The Guardian about the almost arrest of Israeli general Doron Almog for war crimes (he was the commander who approved the 2002 assassination of Saleh Shehadeh, resulting in the toppling of an entire apartment building and the killing of nearly 20 civilian residents and neighbors).
I wrote about this dramatic incident when it happened in 2005 noting that I approved of holding both Israeli officers and Palestinian and Hezbollah militants responsible for their assault on civilian populations. I thought it would be an incredibly powerful statement against the Occupation. One that would be heard around the world. It would’ve met with fierce anger and resentment within most sectors of Israeli society. Something along the order of how Serbia reacted to the arrest and trial of Slobodan Milosevic and others implicated in Balkan war crimes. But just as Serbia has come to understand, albeit grudgingly, the reason why this was important, eventually I’m convinced Israel would come to a similar level of understanding, if not acceptance.
What is especially intriguing about the Guardian story is that it makes clear that the British attorney general himself approved the secret indictment of Almog:
The arrest warrant was issued at Bow Street magistrates court, central London. It was believed to be the first warrant for war crimes of its kind issued in Britain against an Israeli national over conduct in the conflict with Palestinians.
The attorney general would have had to sanction the war crimes prosecution before it went ahead.
This means that the Blair government was prepared for the tremendous fallout that would’ve occurred in British-Israel relations. Of course, it is possible that the government itself warned the Israeli embassy about the impending arrest, thus enabling Almog to flee back to Israel, thereby avoiding an international incident.
There are several troubling aspects of the incident revealed in the police investigation. First, the commanding officer on the scene decided not to board Almog’s plane to arrest him despite the fact that it was on British soil. Supposedly, he feared a gun battle between El Al security guards and any security detail that might have accompanied Almog. I’d say he was right to be concerned about such an eventuality. But tell me this–would any Israeli security officer have risked an international diplomatic incident by commencing a firefight at a British airport? The idea beggars belief.
Additionally, the indictment filed was supposedly secret, yet the police reached out to a member of the Jewish community to prepare for the eventuality of the arrest of an unnamed Israeli high-profile suspect:
…Before the planned arrest, Scotland Yard consulted West Midlands police and a special police unit called the national Communities Tensions Team, for advice on reaction in the British Jewish community. A “trusted partner” of the police, a Jewish contact, also made inquiries about finding a lawyer for Almog and raising his bail money, once he was arrested. The document says the inquiries were made “discreetly” without Almog’s name being mentioned.
What use is such secrecy if you inform the community of what you’re planning? Do the police think this individual didn’t turn right around and inform the Israeli embassy of the impending arrest? Do they think in a tight knit community like the one in Britain that such an inquiry can be made “discreetly?”
I would say that the British police made themselves into something of a laughingstock over this. Either that or they didn’t want to arrest Almog in the first place and are justifying their craven behavior after the fact.
Finally, Almog’s “who-me” response to the incident would be laughable if it weren’t so serious:
Almog said: “As a soldier and a general, I have never committed a crime. Many times I have saved Palestinian lives by risking my life and the lives of my soldiers.”
The actions of the Israeli army in Gaza were to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel, he said.
Tell that to this Gazan survivor of the Shehadeh assassination quoted in a Gideon Levy dispatch published originally in Haaretz:
Among the ruins, I met Mohammed Matar, a Palestinian laborer who had worked in Israel for 30 years, lying in the rubble of his home, his arm and eye bandaged. In the “targeted killing” planned by Dichter’s Shin Bet, Matar lost his daughter, his daughter-in-law and four toddler grandchildren. The pictures of the horror from the Gazan neighborhood have haunted me ever since. Someone, I thought, must pay for this. Could it be that no one is to blame or responsible for such an act?