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ICC wants to arrest Hamas Chief, Israeli Prime Minister over war crimes charges

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has sought arrest warrants for Hamas Chief Yahya Sinwar and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of war crimes, defying U.S. warnings that targeting Israeli officials could derail the peace process.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan announced the move on Monday, revealing that his team has applied for the warrants with the court’s pre-trial chamber. A panel of judges will now decide on granting the warrants, Forbes reported.

Last month, Axios reported that Netanyahu had urged President Joe Biden to intervene to prevent the ICC from issuing warrants against top Israeli officials. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated,

Republican Congressional leaders, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, have also cautioned the ICC against targeting Israeli officials, with some GOP senators threatening to impose sanctions on the court.

This announcement is separate from an ongoing case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide against Hamas in the conflict following the October 7 attacks. The ICJ deals with cases involving countries, while the ICC prosecutes individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Monday’s development is not the first time the ICC has acted in relation to Israel. In March 2021, the ICC launched an investigation into possible crimes committed in the Palestinian territories since June 2014. The ICC, located in The Hague, Netherlands, operates independently under the Rome Statute, a treaty presented to the United Nations.

While 124 countries are parties to this treaty, significant non-signatories include Israel, the US, and Russia.

If the ICC grants Prosecutor Karim Khan’s application and issues the arrest warrants, any member country of the ICC would be obligated to arrest and extradite the individuals to The Hague. This requirement for cooperation among signatories to the Rome Statute could severely restrict the international travel of Netanyahu and Gallant, potentially preventing them from visiting numerous countries, including key allies such as Germany and the United Kingdom.