ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for Israel PM Netanyahu, Hamas leaders

Monday May 20 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Jerusalem on February 18, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan has applied for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for bearing "criminal responsibility" in the Gaza war. 

He also asked ICC judges to issue arrest warrants on leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas for perpetrating human suffering in the conflict, seen as a bid to balance sensibilities in the war that erupted on October 7, 2023.

It will be the second time under Khan's tenure that an ICC prosecutor has sought arrest warrants for a sitting head of government or state. The judges of the ICC will decide whether the request is approved.

More importantly, it could kick off a series of political squabbles about a Court that is not usually a member of the UN but relies on the UN Security Council sometimes.

In 2023, the ICC issued warrants of arrest for Russian President Vladimir Putin and some of his senior officials for perpetrating forcible transfer of people and war crimes in Ukraine which Russia invaded in 2022.

They have never been implemented although the decision, supported by the US, altered Putin's international travel including by forcing him to skip the BRICS Summit in South Africa last year.


The ICC had also issued arrest warrants on former Sudanese leader Omar al Bashir for war crimes and crimes against in Darfur. But as just as for Putin, they were never implemented.

Warrants of arrest on Israeli leaders are likely to be just divisive. The US, a non-member of the Court, cheered when the ICC issued warrants of arrest on Putin, but its politicians have been warning the Prosecutor to keep Israelis and Americans from seeing it as a violation of local jurisdictions.

In Gaza, where more than 32,000 people have died, the conflict has sent shockwaves even in the US during this election year. It aroused protests on major university campuses last month as some criticised US President Joe Biden for not taming Israeli excesses.

Israel on the other hand has defended its bid to finish off Hamas which it accuses of targeting Israel's very existence. It is the civilians who have paid the price though.