Israel urges 'civilised nations' to spurn arrest warrants for its leaders

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Gallant hold a joint press conference at Israel's Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel on Tuesday urged "nations of the civilised world" to oppose the International Criminal Court prosecutor's request for arrest warrants against its leaders, and to declare they would ignore the warrants.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was named in Monday's announcement at The Hague, called it a "disgraceful" bid to interfere in Israel's more than seven-month-old Gaza war against Hamas.

Israel's anger is echoed in Washington, which condemned the impression of equivalence given by the fact that the prosecutor, Karim Khan, simultaneously sought warrants against leaders of the Palestinian Islamist group.

"We call on the nations of the civilised, free world - nations who despise terrorists and anyone who supports them - to stand by Israel. You should outright condemn this step," government spokesperson Tal Heinrich said.

"Make sure the ICC understands where you stand. Oppose the prosecutor's decision and declare that, even if warrants are issued, you do not intend to enforce them. Because this is not about our leaders. It's about our survival."

In a post on X, Gallant said: "The attempt by Prosecutor Karim Khan to deny the State of Israel the right to self-defence and to free its hostages must be rejected out of hand."

Hamas holds around 125 hostages seized during its cross-border rampage on Oct. 7, which killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies, and triggered the war. Gaza medical officials say more than 35,000 have been killed during the Israeli offensive.

Khan said on Monday that Israel did have the right to defend its population but added: "That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law."

He said that, whatever Israel's military goals in Gaza, the prosecution believed its methods - "namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population" - were criminal.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, said there was no comparing "actions taken by a democratic government here with the behaviour of a terrorist organisation that is fighting in a way that has created these conditions".

"I don't think that a day has gone by that I haven't worked with either the prime minister or the defence minister or somebody in their immediate circle on how you get humanitarian assistance to starving people," he added, speaking at a conference.

Asked if Netanyahu or Gallant would avoid travelling to ICC-signatory countries if arrest warrants were issued, Heinrich said: "Let's wait and see."

(Writing by Dan Williams, additional reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague; editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Kevin Liffey)