ICC Prosecutor Seeks Arrest Warrants for Israel’s Netanyahu and Hamas Leaders

Arrest Warrants for Israel's Netanyahu and Hamas Leaders

THE HAGUE, May 20 (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor announced on Monday that he has requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defense chief, and three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan stated that after more than seven months of war in Gaza, he has reasonable grounds to believe the five men “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Khan has applied for arrest warrants for Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Netanyahu, who have overseen Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza since the Palestinian militant group’s deadly raid on Israel on October 7.

Additionally, Khan has sought arrest warrants for Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar; Mohammed Al-Masri, known as Deif, the commander-in-chief of Hamas’ military wing; and Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ Political Bureau.

A panel of pre-trial judges will determine whether the evidence supports the issuance of arrest warrants. However, the court lacks the means to enforce such warrants, and its investigation into the Gaza war has faced opposition from the United States and Israel. Both Israel and Palestinian leaders have denied allegations of war crimes and criticized Khan’s decision.

“I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in The Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas,” Netanyahu said, calling the move a “complete distortion of reality.” U.S. President Joe Biden termed the legal step “outrageous,” while Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concerns that it could jeopardize negotiations on a hostage deal and ceasefire.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the prosecutor’s decision, stating it “equates the victim with the executioner” and demanded the cancellation of the arrest warrant request for its leaders.

Netanyahu Bears ‘Criminal Responsibility’

This marks the first time ICC prosecutor Khan has sought to intervene in the Middle Eastern conflict, following the issuance of an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2023 over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

“Israel, like all states, has a right to defend its population,” Khan said. “That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law.”

Khan alleged that crimes against humanity carried out by Israel were part of “a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy.” He claimed these crimes continue to this day and that evidence showed Israel had systematically deprived civilians of essential resources like food, water, medicine, and energy. Khan held Netanyahu and Gallant responsible for causing great suffering and committing war crimes.

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

“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,” said Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz.

Watershed Event

The ICC, the world’s first permanent international war crimes court, obliges its 124 member states to arrest any wanted person on their territory immediately. As a court of last resort, the ICC intervenes only when a state is unwilling or genuinely unable to prosecute itself. Israel has claimed it is investigating alleged war crimes in Gaza domestically. Neither Israel nor its main ally, the United States, are ICC members.

Member states have previously failed to hand over suspects who entered their territory, such as Sudanese former President Omar Bashir, wanted since 2005 for war crimes and genocide. If warrants are issued against Israeli leaders, many European Union countries, which are ICC members, could face diplomatic challenges.

“This is a watershed event in the history of international justice,” said Reed Brody, a veteran war crimes prosecutor. “The ICC has never, in over 21 years of existence, indicted a Western official. Indeed, no international tribunal since Nuremberg (against representatives of Nazi Germany) has done so.”

The Gaza war has resulted in at least 35,000 Palestinian deaths, according to the enclave’s health ministry, with aid agencies warning of widespread hunger and severe shortages of fuel and medical supplies. Israel reported 1,200 people killed and over 250 taken hostage in the Hamas-led October 7 attack.