ICC Seeks Arrest Warrants Against Israeli Leaders

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Getty Images)
May 20, 2024

The International Criminal Court's prosecutor said on Monday he had requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defense chief, and three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement issued after over seven months of war in Gaza that he had reasonable grounds to believe that all "bear criminal responsibility" for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He said he had applied for an arrest warrant for Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant as well as for Netanyahu. They have overseen Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza since the Palestinian terrorist group's deadly Oct. 7 raid on Israel.

He has also applied for arrest warrants for Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar; Mohammed Al-Masri, the commander-in-chief of the military wing of Hamas who is widely known as Deif; and Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas's Political Bureau.

It will be up to a panel of pre-trial judges to determine whether the evidence supports the issuing of arrest warrants. The court, however, has no means to enforce arrest warrants and its investigation into the Gaza war has long been opposed by the United States and Israel.

Israel and Palestinian leaders have previously dismissed allegations of committing war crimes.

"Now, more than ever, we must collectively demonstrate that international humanitarian law, the foundational baseline for human conduct during conflict, applies to all individuals and applies equally across the situations addressed by my office and the court," Khan said.

"This is how we will prove, tangibly, that the lives of all human beings have equal value."

The allegations against Netanyahu and Gallant include bearing responsibility for starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, willfully causing great suffering, and willful killing or murder as a war crime.

The Hamas leaders face allegations of bearing responsibility for crimes including extermination and murder, the taking of hostages, torture, rape, and other acts of sexual violence.

Several Israeli ministers and Palestinian representatives denounced the prosecutor's moves.

"Drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a blood-thirsty terror organization [Hamas] is a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy," Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the prosecutor's decision to request warrants for the three Hamas leaders "equates the victim with the executioner."

The ICC is the world's first permanent international war crimes court. Its 124 member states are obliged to immediately arrest the wanted person if they are on a member state's territory, but the court has no means to enforce arrest warrants.

Israel and its main ally the United States are not members of the ICC, along with China and Russia.

At least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war in Gaza, according to the enclave's health ministry, and aid agencies have also warned of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

Some 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 rampage, according to Israeli tallies.

Published under: Hamas , Israel