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Israeli Officials Believe International Court Is Preparing Arrest Warrants Over War

Israeli Officials Believe International Court Is Preparing Arrest Warrants Over War

Israeli officials increasingly believe that the International Criminal Court is preparing to issue arrest warrants for senior government officials on charges related to the conflict with Hamas, according to five Israeli and foreign officials.

The Israeli and foreign officials also believe the court is weighing arrest warrants for leaders from Hamas.

If the court proceeds, the Israeli officials could potentially be accused of preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and pursuing an excessively harsh response to the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, according to two of the five officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

The Israeli officials, who are worried about the potential fallout from such a case, said they believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is among those who might be named in a warrant. It is not clear who might be charged from Hamas or what crimes would be cited.

The Israeli officials did not disclose the nature of the information that led them to be concerned about potential I.C.C. action, and the court did not comment on the matter.

Arrest warrants from the court would probably be seen in much of the world as a humbling moral rebuke, particularly to Israel, which for months has faced international backlash over its conduct in Gaza, including from President Biden, who called it “over the top.”

It could also affect Israel’s policies as the country presses its military campaign against Hamas. One of the Israeli officials said that the possibility of the court issuing arrest warrants had informed Israeli decision-making in recent weeks.

The Israeli and foreign officials said they didn’t know what stage the process was in. Any warrants would require approval from a panel of judges and would not necessarily result in a trial or even the targets’ immediate arrest.

Karim Khan, the court’s chief prosecutor, has previously confirmed that his team is investigating incidents during the war, but his office declined to comment for this article, saying that it does not “respond to speculation in media reports.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s office also would not comment, but on Friday the prime minister said on social media that any intervention by the I.C.C. “would set a dangerous precedent that threatens the soldiers and officials of all democracies fighting savage terrorism and wanton aggression.”

Mr. Netanyahu did not explain what prompted his statement, though he may have been responding to speculation about the arrest warrants in the Israeli press.

He also said: “Under my leadership, Israel will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defense. 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.”

Based in The Hague, the I.C.C. is the world’s only permanent international court with the power to prosecute individuals accused of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The court has no police force of its own. Instead, it relies on its 124 members, which include most European countries but not Israel or the United States, to arrest those named in warrants. It cannot try defendants in absentia.

But warrants from the court can pose obstacles to travel for officials named in them.

The Hamas-led raid last October led to the killing of roughly 1,200 people in Israel and the abductions of some 250 others, according to Israeli officials. The subsequent war in Gaza, including heavy Israeli bombardment, has killed more than 34,000 people, according to Gazan officials, caused widespread damage to housing and infrastructure, and brought the territory to the brink of famine.

The Israeli assault in Gaza has led the International Court of Justice, a separate court in The Hague, to hear accusations of genocide against the Israeli state and has spurred a wave of protests on college campuses in the United States.

If the I.C.C. does issue arrest warrants, they would come with deep stigmatization, placing those named in them in the same category as foreign leaders like Omar al-Bashir, the deposed president of Sudan, and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, who was the subject of a warrant last year tied to his war against Ukraine.

The I.C.C.’s focus on individuals rather than states differentiates it from the International Court of Justice, which settles disputes between states.

The I.C.C. judges have ruled that the court has jurisdiction over Gaza and the West Bank because the Palestinians have joined the court as the State of Palestine.

Mr. Khan has said that his team will be investigating incidents that have occurred since Oct. 7 and that he will be “impartially looking at the evidence and vindicating the rights of victims whether they are in Israel or Palestine.”

Mr. Khan’s office has also been investigating allegations of war crimes committed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas; one of the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity believes the new arrest warrants would be an extension of that investigation.

Hamas and the Israeli military did not respond to requests for comment. The office of Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, declined to comment.

In general, Israeli officials say that they fight according to the laws of war and that they take significant steps to protect civilians, accusing Hamas of hiding inside civilian areas and forcing Israel to pursue them there. Hamas has denied committing atrocities on Oct. 7, saying — despite video evidence to the contrary — that its fighters tried to avoid harming civilians.

Marlise Simons, Gabby Sobelman and Myra Noveck contributed reporting.


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