International Criminal Court Seeks Arrests Warrants for Netanyahu, Hamas Leaders

The International Criminal Court issued applications for arrest warrants on Monday against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, and several other Israeli and Hamas officials on war crimes charges and allegations of crimes against humanity.

The court alleges that both Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack against Israel, in which more than 1,000 Israelis were killed and hundreds kidnapped, as well as Israel’s retaliatory offensive against the Gaza Strip and blockade of aid to Palestinians were conducted in violation of international law. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza.

The ICC alleges that Netanyahu and his Minister of Defence, Yoav Gallant, have committed war crimes of starvation; wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; wilful killing; intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population; as well as the crimes against humanity of extermination and/or murder, persecution, and other inhumane acts.

The court further alleges that Hamas leaders — including Sinwar, Al-Qassam Brigades leader Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri (commonly known as Mohammed Deif), and Hamas Political Bureau Chair Ismail Haniyeh — committed the war crimes of murder, taking hostages, and cruel treatment, as well as crimes against humanity of extermination, rape, and other acts of sexual violence, torture, and other inhumane acts.

“Today’s applications are the outcome of an independent and impartial investigation by my Office. Guided by our obligation to investigate incriminating and exonerating evidence equally, my Office has worked painstakingly to separate claims from facts and to soberly present conclusions based on evidence,” wrote ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan in the application. “Today we once again underline that international law and the laws of armed conflict apply to all. No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader — no one — can act with impunity. Nothing can justify wilfully depriving human beings, including so many women and children, the basic necessities required for life. Nothing can justify the taking of hostages or the targeting of civilians.”

Khan added in his statement that the court considers its investigation into alleged war crimes as an ongoing process and that his office will not hesitate to “submit further applications for warrants of arrest if and when we consider that the threshold of a realistic prospect of conviction has been met.”

In an interview with CNN, Khan noted that the parties for whom they are seeking warrants are “free, notwithstanding their objections to jurisdiction, to raise a challenge before the judges of the court and that’s what I advise them to do.”

The application comes months after the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the international civil court that hears disputes between nations, found that there was “plausible” evidence to suggest Israel may have committed acts of genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The ICC itself skirted directly addressing the matter in its warrant application by categorizing the allegations against Israeli officials and Hamas leaders as crimes against humanity and war crimes. The alleged violations of international law contain significant overlaps with the definition of acts constituting the crime of genocide.

The question of whether Israel is committing acts of genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has become a fraught political question heavily opposed by Israel and its international supporters. In January, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the “charge of genocide” against Israel “meritless.”

In April, the Biden administration declared its opposition to the ICC’s investigation of Israel, with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre telling reporters that the administration has “been really clear about the ICC investigation, that we don’t support it, that we don’t believe they have the jurisdiction.” The U.S. is not a party to the ICC, having withdrawn its unratified signature to the Rome Statutes governing the court in 2002 under George W. Bush’s administration.

President Biden bashed the ICC’s request for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders on Monday, calling it “outrageous.”

“Let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas,” the president said in a statement.

Many lawmakers have publicly voiced their opposition the ICC’s investigation against Israeli officials, even threatening sanctions or an outright invasion of the court’s seat in the Hauge should they seek to move forward. Earlier this month, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote a threatening letter to the ICC pointing to the American Service-Members’ Protection Act — a law that unilaterally allows the U.S. to invade the Hauge in order to obtain the release of citizens or allies — as a means of retaliation for potential charges against Israeli officials.

“Target Israel and we will target you,” the senators wrote. “You have been warned.”

Netanyahu himself hasbeen explicit in his contempt for the threat of criminal penalties against him. “We will restore security to both the south and the north [of Gaza],” he wrote in January. “Nobody will stop us – not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anybody else.”

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