Last November, a post appeared on the blogging platform Medium which claimed that between March 1, 2014 and August 31, 2014 – a period of six months – some 80 employees of London's Metropolitan Police had "travelled to Israel."
This overlaps in part with Israel's unprecedented assault on the Gaza Strip, which lasted from July 8 to August 26. During 'Operation Protective Edge', Israeli armed forces killed some 2,100 Palestinians, including more than 500 children.
The post does not reveal the source of its information, and there are no further details supplied. It does, however, cite an apparent refusal by the Met to clarify the matter, on the grounds that it would "have the effect of compromising law enforcement tactics and strategies."
So on February 5, I decided to ask the Met's press office about the claim. Over the phone, a spokesperson told me that "this is a matter that we are not prepared to discuss any further." When I asked why, I was told (predictably): "This is not something we can discuss at this stage."
I decided to file a Freedom of Information Request, and did so on February 5, along the following lines: "Did any Metropolitan Police members of staff/employees travel to Israel in their professional capacity during 2014, and if so, how many, during what period/dates, and what was the purpose of the visit (e.g. training, lectures etc.)?"
The decision, received by email on March 26, was more of the same. "The MPS [Metropolitan Police Service]", the reply stated, "can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any information relating to this request." Four separate exemptions were then cited: Section 23(5) Information Supplied by or concerning certain Security Bodies; Section 24(2) – National Security; Section 27(4) – International Relations; and Section 31(3) Law Enforcement.
According to the FOI Request response, to answer the question about a trip to Israel in 2014 could "potentially undermine ongoing investigations, reveal policing techniques, risk the identification of individuals, reveal the involvement of any exempt bodies and put national security at risk."
The Met concluded that "the balance test favours neither confirming nor denying that information is held." By way of emphasis, the response concluded – in bold – "Please note this response does not confirm or deny that the MPS holds the information that you have requested."
There is precedent. In 2002, for example, the Met visited Israel in order to "look for tactics that might be effective against a suicide bombing." In 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by the police in an operation that incorporated the advice of "Israeli security forces."
We also know that the Met's Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, was in Tel Aviv in September 2014 for talks with his counterparts. For now, however, it is unclear whether Met staff were visiting Israel as the bombs rained down on Gaza – and if they did, for what purpose.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.