Binyamin Netanyahu expresses ‘disgust’ at International Criminal Court seeking his arrest warrant

Hamas criticises request for arrest warrants against its leaders, adding decision encourages Israel to ‘continue the war of extermination’

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, has said he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant, along with Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Deif.

Mr Khan said he had reasonable grounds to believe that the five men “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Mr Khan said Hamas leaders were “criminally responsible” for the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians on October 7th, and the taking of at least 245 hostages. He said Hamas was guilty of extermination, murder, taking hostages, rape and other acts of sexual violence and torture.

Regarding Israel’s leaders, Mr Khan said “the crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population”. He accused Israel of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, extermination and crimes against humanity.


Mr Khan stressed that Israel had a right to take action to defend its population but “this does not absolve Israel from its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law”.

A panel of pretrial judges will determine whether the evidence supports the issuing of arrest warrants, but the court has no means to enforce such warrants, and its investigation into the Gaza war has been opposed by the US and Israel. The US and Israel are not members of the ICC.

The ICC is the world’s first permanent international war crimes court. Its 124 member states are obliged to immediately arrest the wanted person if they are on a member state’s territory but the court has no means to enforce arrest warrants.

Mr Netanyahu described the ICC move a “scandal”.

“I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in The Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas,” Mr Netanyahu said. “With what audacity do you compare Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, decapitated, raped and kidnapped our brothers and sisters with the IDF soldiers fighting a just war unlike any other? This is a complete distortion of reality.”

He referred to the ICC prosecutor’s move as a new kind of anti-Semitism.

“Citizens of Israel, I promise you one thing – the attempt to tie our hands will fail,” he said. “As prime minister of Israel I pledge that no pressure and no decision in any international forum will prevent us from striking those who seek to destroy us.”

Israeli president Yitzhak Herzog said the court’s move was “beyond outrageous”, adding that it “shows the extent to which the international judicial system is in danger of collapsing”.

Mr Netanyahu’s political opponents were quick to rally to his defence. Opposition leader Yair Lapid termed the prosecutor’s announcement a “disaster”, and said Israel would “not accept a comparison to Hamas”. He voiced the hope that the US Congress would condemn the ICC move.

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet and head of the centrist National Unity party, argued that accepting the position of the prosecutor would be a “historical crime”.

“Placing the leaders of a country that went into battle to protect its citizens in the same line with bloodthirsty terrorists is moral blindness and a violation of its duty and ability to protect its citizens.”

Justice minister Yariv Levin and far-right ministers accused the ICC’s chief prosecutor of anti-Semitism.

Hamas criticised the request for arrest warrants against its leaders. “The decision compares the victim to an executioner and encourages the [Israeli] occupation to continue the war of extermination,” Hamas said in a statement, in which it called for the ICC to cancel the decision.

US president Joe Biden described the ICC move against Israel as “outrageous”.

“Let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas,” he said.

Despite the dramatic news from The Hague the Israeli military advance in Rafah continued. With Israeli troops closing in on the centre of the southern Gaza city, Israel claims that one million residents have now fled the area to avoid the fighting.

Fighting also continued in Jabalya, close to Gaza city, where soldiers retrieved the bodies of four hostages over the weekend.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 35,500 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise Hamas attack on October 7th. Some 128 hostages remain in Hamas captivity. It is not known how many have died.

Mr Gallant told visiting US national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday that Israel was committed to expanding its ground operations in Rafah to dismantle Hamas and return hostages. – Additional reporting: Reuters

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem