Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday that hundreds of Israelis, himself included, could be subject to war crimes probes after a major ruling by the International Criminal Court ruled last month.
A pre-trial chamber of the ICC determined that it has jurisdiction to open a criminal investigation into Israel and the Palestinians for war crimes alleged to have taken place in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Israel rejects the court’s jurisdiction on the matter.
Gantz, who also heads the Blue and White party and holds the Justice Ministry, told the Reuters news agency that Jerusalem was working to shield Israelis in the ICC’s crosshairs.
Gantz called the ICC decision a “negative development,” and said Israel was working to influence the court, which has not yet decided to launch any investigations.
The court has said it could probe the 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups. Gantz was the military’s chief of staff during the war.
“I was never afraid to go across enemy lines. I will continue to stand wherever I have to,” he said.
The defense minister told Reuters that roughly several hundred Israelis could be subject to arrest if criminal investigations proceed, calling the figure an “estimate.”
“But we will take care of everybody,” he said.
Following last month’s ruling, it now falls to the ICC’s chief prosecutor to decide whether to launch an investigation. Lead prosecutor Fatou Bensouda indicated in 2019 that she intends to do so, but she leaves the post in June and will be replaced by British barrister Karim Khan.
Israel is not a member of the ICC. The Palestinians joined the court in 2015.
The ICC is meant to serve as a court of last resort when countries’ own judicial systems are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute war crimes.
Israel’s military has mechanisms to investigate alleged wrongdoing by its troops, and despite criticism that the system is insufficient, experts say it has a good chance of fending off an ICC investigation into its wartime practices.
The ICC does not try countries, but rather individuals. Israeli officials said Friday that they do not currently anticipate any immediate threats to senior Israeli political or military figures.
When it comes to settlements, however, some experts say Israel could have a difficult time contesting international law forbidding the transfer of a civilian population into occupied territory.
If Israel and/or Hamas are ultimately convicted of war crimes, and if senior officials are named in such a verdict, they could be subject to international arrest warrants upon travel abroad.