Israel-Britain relations on the rocks over Livni arrest warrant

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 |  Israel Today Staff  

Relations between Israel and Great Britain were severely strained this week after a British judge issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Tzipi Livni over her role a year ago in the Gaza war, during which she was serving as Israel's foreign minister.

The judge apparently issued the warrant thinking Livni was already in the UK to address a gathering of the Jewish National Fund. But Livni cancelled her travel plans two weeks ago after learning of the pending legal action against her.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday blasted the UK over the arrest warrant and the constant misuse of the British legal system to target Israelis.

"The lack of determined and immediate action to correct this distortion harms the relations between the two countries," read a Foreign Ministry statement. "If Israeli leaders cannot visit Britain in a dignified manner, it will naturally be a real obstacle to Britain's desire to have an active role in the peace process in the Middle East."

A British Foreign Office spokesman responded by telling the press that "Israel's leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British government. We are looking urgently at the implications of this case. The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East, and to be a strategic partner of Israel."

Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Livni herself defended her and the nation's actions during the Gaza war, known locally as Operation Cast Lead.

"The operation in Gaza was necessary and was meant to restore Israel's deterrence and did restore Israel's deterrence," said Livni. "The fact that Israel embarked on such an operation after withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and restraining itself for years in face of rocket fire shows that it was necessary…this is what any normal country that wants to defend its civilians from terror would do."

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