Israeli officials eye threat of ICC arrest warrants over war in Gaza

Israeli media reports say the International Criminal Court might soon issue arrest warrants for senior Israeli government and military officials.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant held wide-ranging discussions with senior U.S. officials this week and sought to lower the temperature between the two governments. Gallant, though not part of Netanyahu's inner circle, is a key architect of the campaign against Hamas in retaliation for the militants' Oct. 7 rampage that Israel says killed 1,200 people. Israel's military response has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to the health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave. The Israeli team will still be led by Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, two of Netanyahu's close confidants, according to a person familiar with the matter. The talks are expected to focus on Israel's threatened offensive in Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Wednesday, "We do," when asked if the U.S. believes a limited military campaign in Rafah can take out remaining commanders of the Palestinian militant group. The White House said last week it intended to share with Israeli officials alternatives for eliminating Hamas' remaining battalions in Rafah without a full-scale ground invasion that Washington says would be a "disaster." The threat of such an offensive has increased differences between close allies the United States and Israel, and raised questions about whether the U.S. might restrict military aid if Netanyahu defies Biden and presses ahead anyway. Biden, running for re-election in November, faces pressure not just from America's allies but from a growing number of fellow Democrats to rein in the Israeli military response in Gaza. Biden’s decision to abstain at the U.N., coming after months of mostly adhering to longtime U.S. policy of shielding Israel at the world body, appeared to reflect growing U.S. frustration with the Israeli leader. Netanyahu issued a stinging rebuke, calling the U.S. move a "clear retreat" from its previous position and would hurt Israel's war efforts and negotiations to free more than 130 hostages still held in Gaza. U.S. officials said at the time that the Biden administration was perplexed by Netanyahu's decision and considered it an overreaction, insisting there had been no change in policy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel 'will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defence' [File: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Israeli officials are growing wary that they could face prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the war in Gaza.

After days of conjecture in Israeli media, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said late on Sunday that it has issued warnings to senior political and military officials that they could soon face arrest warrants.

The ministry said it has informed Israeli missions of “rumours” concerning prosecutions.

The ICC has given no indication that warrants are imminent and has made no comment on the claims.

Israeli officials have referred in recent days to an ICC probe launched three years ago into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian fighters going back to the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. The investigation is also charged with looking at Israel’s construction of settlements in occupied territory such as the West Bank.


Senior Israeli officials have demanded assurances from the ICC that Israel will not be targeted, suggesting any action might constitute “anti-Semitism”.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz pushed on Sunday for the ICC to waive any threat that it could target Israelis over the war, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians and pushed hundreds of thousands towards famine.

“We expect the court [ICC] to refrain from issuing arrest warrants against senior Israeli political and security officials,” Katz said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that Israel “will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defence”.

Israel launched its latest war on the Gaza Strip on October 7 after Hamas carried out attacks in southern Israel, killing 1,139 people.

“The threat to seize the soldiers and officials of the Middle East’s only democracy and the world’s only Jewish state is outrageous. We will not bow to it,” Netanyahu posted on the social media platform X.

Palestinian women sit on the rubble of a residential building where they used to live after an Israeli raid in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip [File: Doaa Rouqa/Reuters]

Israel is not a member of the court and does not recognise its jurisdiction, but the Palestinian territory was admitted with the status of a member state in 2015.

In October, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said the court had jurisdiction over any potential war crimes committed by Hamas fighters in Israel and by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

Khan has said his team is investigating whether any crimes have been committed in Gaza and those who are in breach of the law will be held accountable.

The investigation at the ICC – which tries individuals on allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – is separate from a genocide case launched against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also based in The Hague.

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is a United Nations court that deals with disputes between states.

Source: News Agencies