ICC Prosecutor Seeks Arrest of Israel’s PM and Hamas Leaders

The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor announced on Monday that he had requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defense chief, and three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

In a statement, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said there were reasonable grounds to believe that these five individuals were criminally responsible for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Karim Khan has requested an arrest warrant for Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Prime Minister Netanyahu, citing their roles in directing Israel’s military actions against Hamas in Gaza following the group’s deadly attack on Israel on October 7.

Khan is also seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leaders, including Yahya Sinwar, the group’s chief; Mohammed Al-Masri, also known as Deif, the military wing’s commander; and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau.

A panel of pre-trial judges will review the evidence to determine the validity of these warrants. However, the court lacks enforcement power, and its investigations have been opposed by both the United States and Israel.

Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have rejected the war crime allegations, with criticism from both sides directed at Khan’s actions.

Prime Minister Netanyahu strongly condemned the comparison made by the prosecutor, labeling it as a “complete distortion of reality.”

President Joe Biden of the U.S. described the legal move as “outrageous,” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concerns about its potential impact on ongoing negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage exchange.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, criticized the warrants as unfairly equating victims with perpetrators, urging the withdrawal of the warrants against the Hamas leaders.

The issuance of an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2023 marked the ICC’s first action in the Ukraine conflict, but this is the first intervention in the Middle East.

Khan stated that while Israel has the right to defend its population, this does not excuse any state from adhering to international humanitarian law.

He alleged that actions by Israel constituted a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population, continuing to this day.

Khan’s office provided evidence of Israel systematically depriving civilians of essentials such as food, water, medicine, and energy. He attributed direct responsibility to Netanyahu and Gallant for these actions, classifying them as war crimes.

The accused Hamas leaders are alleged to be responsible for various crimes, including extermination, murder, hostage-taking, torture, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz accused the ICC of distorting justice by comparing democratic leaders defending their country to leaders of a terror group like Hamas, calling it a grave injustice.

The ICC, as a permanent international court for war crimes, requires its 124 member states to arrest indicted individuals on their territory.

The ICC intervenes only when a state is unable or unwilling to prosecute such crimes. Despite ongoing domestic investigations in Israel, the country, along with its primary ally, the United States, is not a member of the ICC.

Member states have previously failed to arrest suspects, such as the Sudanese former President Omar Bashir, who has been wanted since 2005 for war crimes and genocide.

Issuing warrants against Israeli leaders could place member states, especially those in the European Union, in a diplomatically challenging position.

Reed Brody, a seasoned war crimes prosecutor, remarked that this is a significant moment in the history of international justice, noting that no western official has been indicted by the ICC in its over 21-year history.

The conflict in Gaza has resulted in the death of at least 35,000 Palestinians, as reported by local health authorities, and humanitarian agencies have warned of severe shortages in food, fuel, and medical supplies.

According to Israeli reports, the October 7 attack by Hamas resulted in around 1,200 deaths and over 250 hostages.