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ICC Prosecutor Seeks Arrest Warrants For Israel’s Netanyahu And Hamas Leaders; Biden Defends Israel Stating ‘No Equivalence’; With The World Divided On Isreal’s War On Gaza, Cracks And Further Dispute Haunts Middle East

The International Criminal Court, ICC has taken a significant step in its ongoing investigation into the conflict in Gaza. On Monday, the ICC's prosecutor, Karim Khan, announced that he has requested arrest warrants for key figures on both sides of the conflict, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three leaders of Hamas. This move, aimed at addressing alleged war crimes, has sparked strong reactions from both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and United States Joe Biden.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has many allies and opponents both in Israel (as Israelis took to the streets wanting an end to war) and in countries that seem to be divided on the chosen response from Netanyahu in dealing with Hamas.

The latest to show their dissatisfaction came when the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced on Monday that he had requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defence minister, and three Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes.

ICC, Arrest Warrant, Benjamin Netanyahu, Joe Biden, Gaza, Amal ClooneyICC prosecutor Karim Khan stated, after more than seven months of conflict in Gaza, that he had reasonable grounds to believe that the five men “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Khan mentioned that he had sought an arrest warrant for Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in addition to Netanyahu. Both have overseen Israel’s military operations against Hamas in Gaza following the Palestinian militant group’s deadly raid on Israel on October 7.

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

A panel of pre-trial judges will decide if the evidence justifies the arrest warrants. However, the court lacks the means to enforce these warrants, and its investigation into the Gaza conflict has been opposed by the United States and Israel.

In War But Together In Verdict

Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have dismissed the allegations of war crimes, with representatives from both sides criticizing Khan’s decision.

“I reject with disgust the comparison made by the prosecutor in The Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas,” Netanyahu said, labelling the move a “complete distortion of reality.”

Likewise, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri stated that the prosecutor’s decision to request warrants for the three Hamas leaders “equates the victim with the executioner.” Hamas demanded the cancellation of the arrest warrant requests for its leaders.

However, many are asking the question, should Netanyahu bear criminal responsibility?

And he is not alone; in March 2023, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes in the Ukraine war. 

However, Monday’s announcement marks the first time prosecutor Karim Khan has sought to intervene in the Middle Eastern conflict.

“Israel, like all states, has the right to defend its population,” Khan stated. “This right, however, does not exempt Israel or any state from its obligation to adhere to international humanitarian law.”

Khan alleged that crimes against humanity committed by Israel were part of “a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population as part of State policy.”

“These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day,” he said.

Khan’s office gathered evidence indicating that Israel had systematically deprived civilians of essential resources such as food, water, medicine, and energy. 

Netanyahu and Gallant are held responsible for Israel willfully causing great suffering and committing war crimes by killing.

The Hamas leaders face allegations of responsibility for crimes committed by Hamas, 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 and 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.

What Can The ICC Do?

The ICC is the world’s first permanent international war crimes court. Its 124 member states are required to arrest any wanted individual present in their territory.

As a court of last resort, the ICC intervenes only when a state is unwilling or genuinely unable to prosecute. 

Meanwhile, Israel claims that alleged war crimes in Gaza are being investigated domestically.

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

Member states have previously failed to arrest suspects on their territory, including Sudanese former President Omar Bashir, wanted since 2005 for war crimes and genocide.

If warrants are issued against Israeli leaders, court members, including nearly all European Union countries, could find themselves in a diplomatically challenging situation.

“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. No international tribunal has done so since the Nuremberg trials against representatives of Nazi Germany.”

According to Gaza’s health ministry, at least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, with aid agencies warning of widespread hunger and severe shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

In the Hamas-led rampage on October 7, around 1,200 people were killed, and over 250 were taken hostage, according to Israeli reports.

Joe Biden’s Support For Netanyahu

Israel’s strongest ally, United States President Joe Biden, has come to Israel’s defence against war crimes charges in the world’s top courts.

“Let me be clear, we reject the ICC’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders,” Biden stated at a Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House on Monday.

This statement coincided with ICC prosecutor Karim Khan’s announcement of his application for arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant, and Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

“There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas,” Biden emphasized. Earlier that day, he had issued a strongly-worded statement condemning the ICC warrants as “outrageous.”

Israel is also contending with a separate case on alleged genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), initiated by South Africa.

Biden firmly stated that Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza.

“Contrary to allegations made by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Israel, what’s happening in Gaza is not genocide. We reject that,” Biden asserted in his speech.

While Biden’s defence of Israel was warmly received at the White House event, his election campaign has been disrupted by pro-Palestinian protests across the US, with some antiwar advocates dubbing the president “Genocide Joe.”

Amongst divided viewpoints, what do the panel of experts say?

The ICC prosecutor detailed specific charges against Netanyahu and Gallant, including “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” and “extermination,” although he noted that his full investigation was ongoing.

Evidence prepared by a panel of experts, including international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, supported these charges.

In a statement on the experts’ report, Clooney wrote, “I do not accept that any conflict should be beyond the reach of the law, nor that any perpetrator should be above the law.”

Some US Republican lawmakers expressed even stronger criticism of the ICC’s actions against Israel on Monday.

“My colleagues and I look forward to ensuring that neither Khan, his associates, nor their families will ever set foot again in the United States,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton wrote on X.

The ICC, the world’s first permanent international war crimes court, requires its 124 member states to immediately arrest any wanted person found within their territories.

The US is not a member of the ICC, and its “biggest leverage” could be to pressure its allies—primarily European nations that are ICC signatories—not to act on the warrants.

Similarly, Israel is also not a member of the ICC, nor are China and Russia.

International reactions to the ICC prosecutor’s plan to issue arrest warrants have been varied.

In comments to the United Nations Security Council, Switzerland’s UN envoy Pascale Baeriswyl stated that her country “fully supports the court and stresses the importance of respecting its independence.”

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2023 over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, but Monday’s action marked the first time the court has sought to intervene in the Middle Eastern conflict.







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