ICC arrest warrant: will Netanyahu be brought before the law?

Yesterday the world’s media was rocked by the surprise news that the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, is seeking arrest warrants for war crimes, against Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Yoav Gallant, the Defence Minister.

The charge against them included:

  • Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare;
  • Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health;
  • Wilful killing;
  • Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population;
  • Extermination and/or murder;
  • Persecution; and
  • Other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity.

If the warrants are issued, it means that the 124 member states of the ICC are obliged to detain and transfer these men should they set foot on their territory. The big question is: will they ever be issued? The issue is a thorny one.

This is the first time in its history that the Court has ever considered issuing arrest warrants against a country that is not only friendly with the United States, but one of its chief allies and partners in crime.

The office of Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor, has been investigating crimes committed with respect to Israel’s legal obligations in the Gaza Strip. Israel has been battling international criticism over its military campaign in the Gaza Strip, which has killed more than 35,000 people and left some 1.7 million people displaced. It has ignored a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire for the month of April.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered “immediate and effective measures” to protect Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip from the risk of genocide, by ensuring “sufficient humanitarian assistance and enabling basic services.” Israel has failed to take even the bare minimum steps to comply.

The order to provide aid was one of six provisional measures ordered by the ICJ on 26 January, and Israel was given one month to report back on its compliance with the measures. Over that period, Israel has continued to disregard its obligation as the occupying power to ensure the basic needs of Palestinians in Gaza are met.

Fine. But what has been done about it?

Neither Israel nor the United States are among the Court’s 124 member states. The US has previously said it opposes the ICC investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza, saying it does not believe the top criminal court “has the jurisdiction.”

ICC Image justflix Wikimedia CommonsThe US has previously said it opposes the ICC investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes / Image: justflix, Wikimedia Commons

The US has also defended Israel over the case brought before the International Court of Justice, a separate body in The Hague, alleging that Israeli forces are committing genocide in Gaza.

This is yet another example of the incestuous relationship between Israel and US imperialism. It is precisely this unconditional and permanent support that has enabled Israel to get away with murder – quite literally – for decades.

It is this that gives Netanyahu and his crew the sense of absolute invulnerability that guides their every action, up to and including open defiance of the United States itself. Netanyahu feels that he has a right to spit in the face of the President of that country, for the simple reason that Joe Biden can never bring himself to take any decisive steps to prevent the ruling clique in Israel doing anything that it wishes.

The man in the White House has only himself to blame for this situation. He has himself created it by his extremely foolish actions after 7 October last year. In that situation, it was inevitable that Washington would express its support for Israel, arguing for its “right to defend itself”. But Joe Biden went far further than that.

In a completely unprecedented move, the old man in the White House immediately jumped on a jet plane and hastened to present himself before Netanyahu, whom he publicly embraced before television cameras, vowing to provide Israel with unconditional support.

Such a display of unseemly histrionics was completely out of order and entirely unnecessary. He could easily have sent Tony Blinken, or any of his other lackeys, to deliver a formal message of support for Israel. But by taking this step, he permanently tied the hands of US foreign policy and boosted the ego of Netanyahu and his crew, who now had a completely free hand to do whatever they wanted.

In the words of the celebrated French diplomat Talleyrand, “C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute” – “It’s worse than a crime; it’s a mistake.” And US imperialism has been paying for this stupid mistake ever since. However, that is merely an extreme example of the policy pursued by Washington for decades.

Successive US administrations – whether Republican or Democrat – have pursued a policy of unremitting support for Israel. That has given the Israeli ruling clique a unique sense of impunity. The men in charge are well aware that no matter how many crimes they commit – and the crimes are innumerable and monstrous – they will not be called to account. Their friends in Washington will make damn sure of that.

The interdependence of the US and Israel is even greater today than at any time in the past. It is now the only reliable ally that US imperialism possesses in the region. Formerly obedient regimes, like that of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have gradually become restive at the arrogant and domineering attitude of Washington. They are increasingly moving in the direction of greater independence from the USA, which inevitably means drifting into the sphere of influence of Russia and China.

The blind adherence to what amounts to unconditional support for Israel has therefore become even more important as a cornerstone of US policy in the Middle East. It is further boosted by a powerful Jewish and ‘Christian Zionist’ lobby, backed by unlimited funds and the uncritical backing of what is for some reason or other referred to as ‘the free press’.

However, this policy does not come without considerable risks. The Middle East is an explosive minefield in which the unresolved Palestinian question acts as a permanent potential detonator. The events of the last seven months have exposed just how dangerous that situation can be.

For Benjamin Netanyahu, the bloody events of 7 October came as manna from heaven. They gave him the perfect excuse to do what he wanted to do all along: to launch a devastating war on Gaza, with the intention of eradicating Hamas.

But seven months later, he has failed to achieve any of his objectives. Gaza has been practically destroyed and thousands of its people killed. But Hamas, though weakened, has not been defeated and continues to resist. The hostages have not been released, and Israel finds itself more isolated internationally than at any time since its foundation.

For many months, Benjamin Netanyahu has shrugged off international criticism of Israel, secure in the knowledge that the President of America had offered “ironclad support”. He only has one agenda in all this. It is very simply stated: to save his own skin.

His position as Prime Minister is extremely unstable. In fact, his support is fast collapsing and there are open rifts appearing in the war coalition. If you have the White House behind you, who cares about the International Court of Justice, the South Africans, or the students of Columbia University?

Biden Netanyahu Image The White House TwitterNetanyahu responded to the US decision with insolent bravado and defiance / Image: The White House, Twitter

But even the Biden Administration has its limits. The groundswell of revolt in the USA is growing by the day. The student rebellion erupted seemingly from out of nowhere, and gathered strength in spite of brutal repression, or even because of it. There is growing unease within the ranks of the Democrat Party and even within the Administration itself.

The Netanyahu government’s determination to press ahead with a full-scale attack on Rafah finally prompted the US to step up its pressure on Israel and even to pause some of its military aid. But all this has had absolutely no effect.

Netanyahu responded to the US decision with insolent bravado and defiance. Israel is pressing forward with its attack on Rafah using its already formidable arsenal. He brags that no outside power can prevent his nation from defending itself as it sees fit. Israel “will stand alone” if necessary.

Israel’s far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir condemned Biden’s announcement, writing on X: “Hamas Loves Biden”. Netanyahu might previously have assumed that the US would always swing in behind Israel and provide the necessary military support. But Biden’s actions suggest this is no longer a safe assumption.

The US will always provide Israel with defensive weapons, such as missile interceptors. But the supply of artillery shells and powerful bombs for offensive operations can no longer be taken for granted. In this context, the sudden and unexpected declaration of the ICC fell like a bombshell on Israeli society.

Clearly feeling the hot breath of imperialism on the back of their necks, the ICC tried to even things up by simultaneously seeking arrest warrants against Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammad Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.

If that was intended to soften the blow and deflect criticism, it has failed in its objective. News of the Court’s action immediately met with a wave of outrage from Israel. The ICC was accused of “moral blindness” by Israeli war cabinet members.

The ferocious character of the comments made by virtually all the political factions and parties indicate a level of shock and fury that shows how completely unexpected the ICC’s actions were. President Herzog of Israel said that the ICC decision was “beyond outrageous” and “emboldens terrorists around the world”. He angrily demanded that the United States and other members of what is called the ‘collective West’ take action to prevent any warrants for arrest being issued.

His words did not fall on deaf ears. The United States was not slow to take the hint. The move by the ICC prosecutor was immediately condemned by supporters of Israel in the US Congress. This was hardly surprising, as even before the news of arrest warrants was made public, frantic moves were afoot in Congress to sabotage it in advance.

Speaker Michael Johnson, backed by practically all Republicans and quite a few Democrats, drafted proposed legislation that aims to ban entry into the United States for any official of the Court and anyone else involved in the case. This could potentially have a very damaging effect on the United Nations itself – something that many on the right in the USA and Israel would welcome.

Netanyahu has called the ICC decision “scandalous”. And he added: “This will not stop me or us”. If that means the total extermination of the entire population of Gaza and its total destruction, then so be it!

Israel’s fellow partners-in-crime immediately joined in the chorus of indignation. Reactions in Europe were mixed – ranging from support to statements that the decision is “appalling” and “incomprehensible.”

The French foreign ministry said it had been “warning for many months about the imperative of strict compliance with international humanitarian law and in particular about the unacceptable nature of civilian losses in the Gaza Strip and insufficient humanitarian access,” adding, “France supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations.”

But in London, a spokesman for Rishi Sunak said that the ICC arrest warrants are “not helpful” and will not help achieve a pause in fighting. Unfortunately, he did not choose to tell us what exactly would achieve that end.

Lord Cameron, the British Foreign Minister, had already made it abundantly clear that he did not believe that Israel was guilty of anything bad, and consequently Great Britain would continue to send bombs, shells, and other useful instruments to Israel to help it serve the cause of peace and harmony in Gaza.

After some hesitation, the German government tried to cover its backside with a hypocritical declaration that it “respects” the Court, but added: “The simultaneous application for arrest warrants against the Hamas leaders on the one hand and the two Israeli officials on the other gave the false impression of an equation.” It then lists crimes perpetrated by Hamas and voices support for Israel’s “right to self defence”.

Despite his public display of bravado, Netanyahu is clearly very alarmed that he and some colleagues may be indicted by the ICC. Israel wants the US to work behind the scenes to put pressure on the ICC. And it also needs the US to provide support against the widespread accusation that Israel has committed war crimes or genocide.

No problem there! Biden called the ICC’s application for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders “outrageous.” That was only the start of what will obviously be a well-planned and financed operation to prevent the Court from issuing anything remotely resembling an arrest warrant against any Israeli citizen.

President Joe Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, Wednesday, September 20. 2023 at the InterContinental Barclay in New York City. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)Biden called the ICC’s application for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders “outrageous” / Image: public domain

It is absolutely certain that in the next few weeks, the Court, the prosecutor and the judges will be put under tremendous pressure from Washington to withdraw the request for arrest warrants, or to have it thrown out when it comes to court. It remains to be seen whether this pressure will have the desired effect on the ICC.

Until now, I had assumed that the arm-twisting would probably result in a reversal. However, that now seems to me to be unclear. The Court itself was well aware that any decision of this kind would inevitably provoke a violent reaction from the other side, with potentially very serious consequences for it.

However, for that very reason, they have gone to extreme lengths to provide an enormous quantity of solid facts and evidence, witness statements, photographs and film footage, including from satellites. In addition, they have set up a panel composed of a large number of eminent lawyers from different countries, which has validated the decision of the prosecutor.

In the face of such a mountain of evidence, if the Court were to retreat, it would completely discredit itself as an independent legal body. Such conduct would immediately open it to the accusation of blatant hypocrisy and double standards.

Let us recall that when Vladimir Putin was accused of war crimes in Ukraine (the alleged ‘kidnapping’ of Ukrainian children) the Americans and others fell over themselves in their haste to demand the issuing of an arrest warrant, which the Court obediently accepted.

The very meagre evidence provided in that case stands in glaring contrast to the huge mountain of evidence that clearly convicts Israel of war crimes of the most serious kind. Therefore, reluctantly or otherwise, the Court will really have no option other than to either accept the incontrovertible evidence provided by the prosecutor, or else completely abandon any pretence at being an objective and legitimate legal arbiter.

One thing is absolutely clear. The Court’s decision will have no effect whatsoever on the calculations of Israel’s ruling clique or the war on the people of Gaza. If anybody thought that the actions of the ICC would have any effect on halting the massacres and atrocities that are daily inflicted upon the long-suffering men, women and children of Gaza, they were very much mistaken.

Around the same time the ICC was announcing its decision, the Gazan health ministry said that more than 35,562 Palestinians have been killed in the Strip since 7 October, and 79,652 injured in the course of the Israeli military offensive. A further 106 Palestinians had been killed in the past 24 hours.

Benjamin Netanyahu understands that to halt the hostilities now would mean not just loss of political power but total disgrace, followed by a trial on corruption charges, and the end of his political career. He is therefore determined to continue his butcher’s work to the bloody end.

Neither legal judgement, investigations, United Nations resolutions, nor any other legalistic games can save the unfortunate people of Palestine from a tragic fate. That can only be achieved by the united action of the working class and the revolutionary youth of all countries to overthrow imperialism – the root cause of all these atrocious horrors in the world.


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