May 20, 2024 | Flash Brief

Israel and U.S. Outraged by ICC Warrant Applications for Israeli Leaders

May 20, 2024 | Flash Brief

Israel and U.S. Outraged by ICC Warrant Applications for Israeli Leaders

Latest Developments

Israel reacted with outrage to International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan’s announcement on May 20 that his office is requesting arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza. Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin denounced what he called “one of the greatest moral disgraces in human history,” emphasizing that its purpose is “to deny Israel the right of self-defense.” Separately, President Joe Biden called the warrant request “outrageous” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken questioned the investigation’s “legitimacy and credibility.”

Khan announced that he was seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant as well as Hamas terrorist leaders Ismail Haniyeh, Muhammad Diab Ibrahim al-Masri (more commonly known as Muhammad Deif), and Yahya Sinwar, the main architect of the Hamas massacre in southern Israel on October 7. The applications were filed with the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber I, whose judges must now decide whether the evidentiary threshold for the issuing of warrants has been met.

The ICC does not have jurisdiction over Israel because Israel is not an ICC member and has a robust system for self-policing alleged war crimes by its personnel.The United States is also not a member of the ICC. The ICC is a “court of last resort,” authorized by its charter to proceed only in the event that a nation’s authorities are unwilling or unable to prosecute alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by its own forces. Khan himself has explicitly recognized that “Israel has trained lawyers who advise commanders and a robust system intended to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law.”

Commenting on the equivalence drawn between Israel and Hamas by the ICC, Justice Minister Levin asserted that “the comparison between Israel’s leaders and the many murderers at the head of Hamas are a clear expression of modern antisemitism and hatred of Jews wherever they are.”

Expert Analysis

“There is no factual or legal basis for these warrant filings against top Israeli officials. The filings are clearly driven by politics and the same hypocritical anti-Israel animus that has long dominated the UN and other international organizations. The only serving national leaders for which the ICC has previously issued such arrest warrants are Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir. Israel’s leaders do not belong in such company. Moreover, the ICC has never issued arrest warrants for Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or any other Iranian official, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or any other Syrian official, or the genocidal General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, or any other Chinese official.” — Orde Kittrie, FDD Senior Fellow

“When it comes to Israel’s conduct in Gaza, the prosecutor’s assertions are disconnected from reality and directly contradict the findings of the Biden administration’s report to Congress this month. The suggestion of moral equivalence between a democracy trying to defend its citizens and minimize civilian casualties in Gaza versus a terror organization deliberately trying to murder civilians and use its own people as human shields is deeply misguided and dangerous.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

U.S., Allies Rebut ICC Accusations Against Israeli Leaders

Many of Khan’s accusations against Israel, which include claims of enforced famine and deliberate targeting of civilians, were rebutted in a May 10 State Department report submitted to the U.S. Congress. The report observed that the U.S. intelligence community “has no direct indication of Israel intentionally harming civilians.” It also noted that Israel’s concern about possible violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza “is reflected in the fact it has a number of internal investigations underway.”

Following Khan’s announcement, President Biden stated both that the ICC’s bid to arrest Netanyahu and Gallant was “outrageous” and that “whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.” Other U.S. allies also issued strong criticism, with a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak describing Khan’s announcement as “not helpful in relation to reaching a pause in the fighting, getting hostages out or getting humanitarian aid in,” and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala calling it “appalling and completely unacceptable.” Fiala added that “[W]e must not forget that it was Hamas that attacked Israel in October and killed, injured and kidnapped thousands of innocent people. It was this completely unprovoked terrorist attack that led to the current war in Gaza and the suffering of civilians in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon.”

Possible Arrest Warrants for Israeli Leaders Expose the Utter Perversity of the International Criminal Court,” by Orde Kittrie

“U.S. Legislators Push Back Against Possible ICC Warrants for Israeli Officials,” FDD Flash Brief

“Israeli Officials Hold Emergency Meeting to Discuss Possible ICC Arrest Warrants,” FDD Flash Brief

“Reviving the Arsenal of Democracy,” FDD Foreign Podicy Podcast

Issues:

International Organizations Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power