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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 February 2008, 08:06 GMT
Police feared 'airport stand-off'
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Major General Doron Almog
Major General Doron Almog refused to leave the plane at Heathrow
An Israeli general wanted for alleged war crimes escaped arrest in the UK because British police feared an armed confrontation at Heathrow airport.

Documents seen by BBC News reveal how Major General Doron Almog managed to fly back to Israel when police failed to board his plane in September 2005.

He stayed on board for two hours after a tip-off that he was facing detention.

Police were concerned about a potential clash with Israeli air marshals or armed personal security on the plane.

Maj Gen Almog had flown to the UK for social and charitable visits to Jewish communities in Solihull, in the West Midlands, and Manchester.

Lawyers acting for Palestinian campaigners lobbied the Metropolitan Police to act over allegations he had ordered the destruction in 2002 of more than 50 Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.

Campaigners say the homes were destroyed by the Israeli army as retribution for a Palestinian militant attack, in contravention of the laws of war protecting civilian property. Israel says destruction of Palestinian houses is among the necessary measures it takes to protect its citizens.

The Met initially refused to get involved, citing massive pressures on counter-terrorism teams in the wake of the London bombings.

But the legal representatives successfully applied to a judge for an arrest warrant for a private prosecution.

Decisions log

A decisions log prepared for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which has investigated the incident, shows officers decided to detain the general at Heathrow's immigration control.

Homes destroyed in Gaza in 2002
Destroyed: Palestinians accused Maj Gen Almog of an attack on homes

They then planned to take him to a police station to consider executing the warrant.

However, news of the warrant leaked to the Israeli Embassy.

Officials tipped off the general and he and his wife refused to leave the El Al flight for the two hours it sat at the London airport's terminal.

The documents now show Det Supt John MacBrayne, a senior counter-terrorism officer who was responsible for the operation, could not get confirmation that his team had the right to board the plane.

El Al, Israel's national airline, had refused permission.

In his log, he wrote: "Another consideration [was] that El Al flights carried armed air marshals, which raised issues around public safety.

"There was also no intelligence as to whether Mr Almog would have been travelling with personal security as befitted his status, armed or otherwise."

The officer concluded there were real risks to the police and public and also had concerns about the "international impact of a potentially armed police operation at an airport".

Apology to Israel

When Maj Gen Almog arrived back in Israel, the planned arrest caused a minor diplomatic storm, with Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom describing the incident as an "outrage".

In turn, the then UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw apologised to his counterpart for any embarrassment caused.

Hickman and Rose, lawyers for the Palestinians, demanded an inquiry.

A spokesman for the Independent Police Complaints Commission said its review had not identified the source who leaked details of the planned arrest.

It also concluded police had not broken rules by failing to board the aircraft to execute the warrant.

John O' Connor, a former head of Scotland Yard's flying squad, told BBC One's Breakfast programme: "All they needed to do was to stop the plane from taking off and negotiate through the Foreign Office."

He said he felt the arrest had been "written off", putting "British justice is in the dock."

What the police report revealed

Straw apology on Israeli arrest
22 Sep 05 |  UK Politics
Israeli army 'crimes' unpunished
18 Dec 07 |  Middle East
Measuring the crimes of war
07 Nov 07 |  Middle East


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