Comment: To be clear, this is an application by the ICC prosecutor for an arrest warrant for the Israeli and Hamas Palestinian leaders. A panel of judges will rule on its validity. And then arrest warrants will be formally issued, though of course their enforcement is unlikely. What is significant about this is that the Israeli regime, despite its genocidal history, has become so bad now that even its powerful global network can't prevent such a potential development from occurring, and the 'negative optics' that come along with it.

© Amir Cohen/ReutersIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu • Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, Jerusalem • May 6, 2024
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war that began on October 7.

Karim Khan said that he believes Netanyahu, his defense minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders - Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh - are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Speaking of the Israeli actions, Khan said in a statement:
"The effects of the use of starvation as a method of warfare, together with other attacks and collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are acute, visible and widely known. (...) They include malnutrition, dehydration, profound suffering and an increasing number of deaths among the Palestinian population, including babies, other children, and women."
Of the Hamas actions on October 7, he said:
"I saw for myself the devastating scenes of these attacks and the profound impact of the unconscionable crimes charged in the applications filed today. Speaking with survivors, I heard how the love within a family, the deepest bonds between a parent and a child, were contorted to inflict unfathomable pain through calculated cruelty and extreme callousness. These acts demand accountability."
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the chief prosecutor's decision to seek arrest warrants against Israel's leaders is "a historic disgrace that will be remembered forever." He said he would form a special committee to fight back against any such action and would work with world leaders to ensure that any such warrants are not enforced on Israel's leaders.

In a statement, Hamas accused the prosecutor of trying to "equate the victim with the executioner." It said it has the right to resist Israeli occupation, including "armed resistance." It also criticized the court for seeking the arrests of only two Israeli leaders and said it should seek warrants for other Israeli leaders.

Panel of three judges

The prosecutor must request the warrants from a pre-trial panel of three judges, who take on average two months to consider the evidence and determine if the proceedings can move forward. Israel is not a member of the court, and even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But Khan's announcement deepens Israel's isolation as it presses ahead with its war, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Both Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza as Israel tries to hunt them down. But Haniyeh, the supreme leader of the Islamic militant group, is based in Qatar and frequently travels across the region.

Benny Gantz, a former military chief and member of Israel's War Cabinet with Netanyahu and Gallant, harshly criticized Khan's announcement, saying:
"Israel fights with one of the strictest moral codes and has a robust judiciary capable of investigating itself. The State of Israel is waging one of the just wars fought in modern history following a reprehensible massacre perpetrated by terrorist Hamas on the 7th of October. The prosecutor's position to apply for arrest warrants is in itself a crime of historic proportion to be remembered for generations."
Hindering aid deliveries

The United Nations and other aid agencies have repeatedly accused Israel of hindering aid deliveries throughout the war. Israel denies this, saying there are no restrictions on aid entering Gaza and accusing the United Nations of failing to distribute aid. The UN says aid workers have repeatedly come under Israeli fire, and also says ongoing fighting and a security vacuum have impeded deliveries.

Israel is also facing a South African case in the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide. Israel denies those charges.

Khan's request for warrants in the Israel-Gaza conflict comes 14 months after the court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for abductions of children from Ukraine.