ICC prosecutor slams effort to ‘intimidate’ him on possible arrest warrants for Israelis

Karim Khan warns against trying to impede investigation into Israel’s conduct in Gaza, after US lawmakers reportedly meet with senior court officials

File - International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan poses during an interview with AFP at the Cour d'Honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris on February 7, 2024.  (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)
File - International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan poses during an interview with AFP at the Cour d'Honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris on February 7, 2024. (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

Officials at the International Criminal Court warned on Friday against efforts to try and sway the court after reports that Israel and its allies are attempting to dissuade the UN court from issuing arrest warrants against senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over the war in Gaza.

While the ICC “welcomes open communication” with government officials and non-governmental bodies alike, it will only engage in such dialogue so long as it is “consistent with its mandate under the Rome Statute to act independently and impartially,” ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement.

“That independence and impartiality are undermined, however, when individuals threaten to retaliate… should the office, in fulfillment of its mandate, make decisions about investigations or cases falling within its jurisdiction,” he added, demanding that “all attempts to impede, intimidate or improperly influence its officials cease immediately.”

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have become increasingly concerned that the UN court could issue arrest warrants for senior political and military officials over the nearly-seven-month-old war in Gaza, including against Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

Israel fears that the warrants will be sought due to the humanitarian crisis that the war against Hamas has created in the Strip, with countries that accuse Israel of breaching international law said to be leading the effort.

A group of Republican and Democrat senators held a virtual meeting on Wednesday with top ICC officials, Axios reported Friday, in an attempt to dissuade it from issuing arrest warrants.

Quoting sources with knowledge of the meeting, Axios reported that the senators — whose identities were not disclosed — used the meeting to “voice concerns about how the ICC investigation regarding the war in Gaza is being conducted.”

The meeting between the ICC and the senators reportedly came about after extensive efforts by Israel to persuade the US to prevent arrest warrants from being issued. In recent weeks, Israel has reportedly told the US that the Palestinian Authority may be pushing the court to issue the arrest warrants and warned that it would retaliate against the PA if they came to be.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague (Oliver de la Haye / iStock)

Earlier this week, Axios reported that US Congress members from both parties had warned the ICC that Washington would also retaliate against the court, including by passing legislation that would sanction ICC officials, if it issues the potential warrants, amid fears that such a move could sink a hostages-for-truce agreement in the works between Israel and Hamas.

In an English-language video statement earlier this week, Netanyahu accused the court at The Hague of trying to prevent Israel from defending itself against terrorism, calling the possibility of arrest warrants being issued “a distortion of justice and history.”

Both Foreign Minister Israel Katz and President Isaac Herzog have also sharply condemned the possibility of the dramatic step being taken against Israel.

In addition to governmental efforts to dissuade the ICC, the right-wing Shurat HaDin Law Center in Israel wrote to US President Joe Biden on Friday appealing for assistance on the matter.

The letter, signed by close to 200 attorneys from Israel, the US and elsewhere, requested that Biden “use your authority, executive powers and moral responsibility to act on behalf of your closest Middle Eastern ally, Israel, and take all action to stop the ICC from issuing any arrest warrants or bringing indictments against Israeli leaders and senior IDF officers.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a video address regarding reports that the ICC may issue arrest warrants against Israeli officials, April 30, 2024. (Screenshot/GPO)

Not only would the arrest warrants be “completely unfounded and unjustified,” Shurat HaDin continued, but they would “carry tremendous repercussions for Israel and for Jewish communities across the world.

“They will render Israel under an existential threat due to the de facto denial of its right of self-defense, they will jeopardize the lives of Israeli and American citizens still held hostage by Hamas, and will pose a strategic risk to American interests due to a distorted and political application of the Laws of War by the ICC, which will soon put also American officials and servicemen at considerable risk,” the letter continued.

Urging the US to act in support of Israel, Shurat HaDin alleged that “for more than 200 days the ICC prosecutor has refrained to act against the true perpetrators of the hideous war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on October 7, 2023 and beyond. It allowed Hamas to continue its atrocities, to hold hundreds of hostages and to torture them. Despite being invited into Israel to witness the atrocities in person – the ICC’s prosecutor refrained to act where its actions could literally save lives.”

Khan visited Israel in December 2023 at the request of families of Hamas hostages. During his visit, he toured some of the communities attacked during the October 7 Hamas onslaught, including Kibbutz Be’eri and Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and heard testimonies from survivors of the massacre.

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan visits a Gaza border town attacked by Hamas, on December 3, 2023. (Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum)

Following his visit, he said that the ICC was investigating the crimes against Israeli civilians as “some of the most serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity.”

Established in 2002, the ICC is a permanent court of last resort to prosecute individuals for war crimes and other crimes against humanity.

In 2021, then-chief prosecutor Fatouh Bensouda announced that she was opening an investigation into possible crimes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. That investigation will examine the region but controversially starting from June 13, 2014 — one day after Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, meaning the ICC will not look into the crimes that sparked Israel’s war in Gaza that summer.

Israel often levels accusations of bias at the UN and international bodies, and Netanyahu slammed the decision to probe “fake war crimes” as hypocritical and antisemitic.

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