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Wednesday Feb. 9, 2011 10:47 AM (EST+7)
Israel's military spokesman visited UK incognito for fear of protests

Read more: Israeli military, protests, demonstrations, BDS, boycott divestment and sanctions, Europe, UK, Britain

HERZLIYA, Israel, Feb 8 (Reuters) - The chief spokesman of Israel's armed forces said on Tuesday he had visited Britain incognito and under guard for fear of being targeted by pro-Palestinian protesters.

The fact that Brigadier-General Avi Benayahu, the public face of the military during the Gaza war of 2008-2009 and the bloody seizure of a Turkish aid flotilla last year,used an alias showed the depth of Israelis' discomfort at popular campaigns to pillory their dignitaries while abroad. Britain has been of special concern for Israel given local laws allowing private citizens to secure arrest warrants for visiting foreign officials they accuse of war crimes.

I was also in London, not long ago, with an assumed identity and a bodyguard ... Me, who did not attend the officers' academy and never fired a shot in my life, Benayahu told the Herzliya Conference, an annual Israeli security forum.

He said organisers of the visit explained to me that the moment they notice me, spot me at the hotel, thanks to the social network, there's a demonstration in front of the hotel in an hour. And you don't know how a demonstration will unfold.

One doesn't want a provocation, said Benayahu, a former journalist and publicist who received an honorary military rank when he became spokesman.

Benayahu's office did not give more details of the visit, but Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported in July he had travelled to London on a national PR mission.

In September, Benayahu told Yedioth that he had recently completed a month-long public relations stint in Europe.

Benayahu is familiar to Israelis thanks to his distinctive girth and booming voice. But he has shunned the international media, delegating such appearances to deputies who speak foreign languages.

After several Israeli politicians and military brass canceled trips to London out of concern they could be arrested, the British government promised legislation to curb British magistrates' universal jurisdiction powers.

Addressing the Herzliya Conference on Sunday, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox praised his country's growing and maturing military cooperation with Israel.

(Writing by Dan Williams)






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