Politics & News

Concerns in Israel over Possible ICC Arrest Warrants

Fears are growing in Israel that the International Criminal Court (ICC) could issue arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and other senior Israeli officials on charges related to the conduct of the war in Gaza.

According to Reuters, the ICC is investigating Hamas’ October 7 attack and Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza, which has entered its seventh month.

Increasing Worries

Israeli officials are deeply concerned that the ICC could issue arrest warrants against senior officials for alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza, Reuters cited Israeli media.

Commenting on the reports, Netanyahu said in a statement on “X” on Friday: “While the ICC will not affect Israel’s actions, it would set a dangerous precedent.”

In a phone call on Sunday, Netanyahu expressed his concerns to US President Joe Biden, asking for help to prevent the Court from issuing warrants for Israeli officials, reported Axios.

In the same day, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it had informed Israeli missions of “rumors” that warrants might be issued against senior political and military officials.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said: “We expect the court (ICC) to refrain from issuing arrest warrants against senior Israeli political and security officials. We will not bow our heads or be deterred and will continue to fight.”

What is the ICC?

The International Criminal Court, based in the Hague, Netherlands, was established in 2002. It prosecutes war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression when member states are unwilling or unable to do so themselves. It has 124 member states, and 17 ongoing investigations.

Dozens of countries did not sign and do not accept the Court’s jurisdiction over war crimes and genocide. These countries include Israel, the US, Russia, and China. The Palestinian territories were admitted with the status of a member state in 2015.

In 2021, the ICC launched a probe into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian militants during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. The probe is also investigating Israel’s construction of settlements in the Palestinian occupied territory, according to the Associated Press (AP).

In March 2023, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.

Possible Charges

In an opinion piece in the Guardian, former executive director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth wrote that the most likely reason for the possible ICC warrants could be Netanyahu’s starvation strategy for Palestinians in Gaza.

He said that other possible Israeli war crimes could include indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas. However, it could take time to complete investigations because Israel has refused to let the ICC staff enter Gaza. But there are plenty of facts that Israel obstructs the entry of humanitarian aid.

In October, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said the court had jurisdiction over any potential war crimes committed by Hamas fighters in Israel or Israeli forces in Gaza. He said that his team is investigating any crimes allegedly committed in Gaza and “those who are in breach of the law will be held accountable,” reported Reuters.

Last December, Khan visited Ramallah and Israel, according to AP. After meeting Palestinian officials and families of Israelis killed or taken hostage by Hamas, Khan said “international humanitarian law must still apply” in Israel-Hamas war, stressing that an investigation into possible crimes by both sides is “a priority” for his office.

Implications on Israel

The arrest warrants would have consequences for Israel. Matthew Gillet, an international law lecturer at the University of Essex in England, said that an arrest warrant would ban targeted individuals from traveling to the 124 ICC member states, including most European countries, Japan and Australia, or they could be detained.

If arrest warrants were issued against Israeli officials, some allied countries could take action, including reducing weapons transfers or scaling back diplomatic visits, which would in turn increase Israel’s international isolation, Gillet told Reuters. This would make it “more difficult for Western liberal democracies to engage with Israel,” he said.

US Reaction

The Biden administration said on Monday that it did not support the investigation, according to the Hill. The White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “We’ve been really clear about the ICC investigation. We do not support it. We don’t believe that they have the jurisdiction.”

In a statement, US House Speaker Mike Johnson slammed reports about the possible ICC arrest warrants for Israeli top officials, calling them “baseless” and “illegitimate.”

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