Israel concerned over possible ICC arrest warrants related to Gaza war

Prime Minister Netanyahu says any ICC decisions would not affect Israel's actions but would set a dangerous precedent

Reuters April 29, 2024
An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, March 31, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS


Israel is voicing concern that the International Criminal Court could be preparing to issue arrest warrants for government officials on charges related to the conduct of its war against Hamas.

The ICC - which can charge individuals with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide - is investigating Hamas' Oct. 7 cross-border attack and Israel's devastating military assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza, now in its seventh month.

In response to Israeli media reports that the ICC might soon issue arrest warrants for senior Israeli government and military officials, Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Sunday warned Israeli embassies to bolster their security because of the risk of a "wave of severe antisemitism".

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that any ICC decisions would not affect Israel's actions but would set a dangerous precedent.

Israeli officials are worried that the court could issue arrest warrants against Netanyahu and other top officials for alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza, Israeli media have reported.

Read also: UN commission accuses Israel of obstructing Oct. 7 probe

They said the ICC is also considering arrest warrants for leaders from Hamas.

The ICC, based in The Hague, and Hamas, Gaza's ruling group, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Israel is not a member of the court and does not recognise its jurisdiction, but the Palestinian territories were admitted with the status of a member state in 2015.

In October, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said the court had jurisdiction over any potential war crimes committed by Hamas fighters in Israel and by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

Khan has said his team is actively investigating any crimes allegedly committed in Gaza and that those who are in breach of the law will be held accountable.

International isolation

Matthew Gillet, a lecturer in international law at the University of Essex in England, said anyone issued with an arrest warrant would be unable to travel to the more than 120 countries that are members of the ICC, including most European countries, Japan and Australia, or they could be detained.

Gillet said if arrest warrants were issued against Israeli officials, some allied countries could take action such as reducing weapons transfers or scaling back diplomatic visits, increasing Israel's international isolation.

It would make "it more difficult for western liberal democracies to engage with Israel," he said.

On Oct. 7, Hamas led an attack on Israeli military bases and communities in which 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, and 253 were taken as hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel has since launched a ground, air and sea offensive that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza authorities, and has laid much of the small, densely populated coastal territory to waste.

Read: 'Hamas' resistance against Israeli occupation justified under int'l law'

The Gaza Health Ministry does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants in its casualty reports but most of the fatalities have been civilians, health officials say.

Israel says that it takes precautions to minimise civilian deaths and that at least a third of the Gaza fatalities are combatants, figures that Hamas has dismissed.

Israel's military campaign has displaced most of the blockaded Palestinian enclave's 2.3 million people and created a humanitarian crisis.

The case at the ICC is separate from a genocide case launched against Israel at the International Court of Justice, also based in The Hague.

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is a United Nations court that deals with disputes between states, while the ICC is a treaty-based criminal court focusing on individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.


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