Israel’s Foreign Ministry has reportedly ordered dozens of embassies worldwide to request that their host countries deliver a “discreet message” to the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, over her recent ruling that the court has jurisdiction to open a war crimes investigation into Israel.
Two senior Israeli officials told the Walla news site that the classified order was defined as “urgent,” including a directive for diplomats to open embassies Sunday, an irregular move, to begin work.
The order instructed ambassadors to start reaching out to heads of government and foreign ministers in the countries they are posted in, to issue public statements of opposition to the ICC’s decision, the report said.
In a major decision Friday, a pre-trial chamber of the ICC determined that The Hague 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.
It now falls to the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatouh Bensouda, to decide whether to launch an investigation, and she indicated in 2019 that she intends to do so.
Meanwhile, Israel’s security cabinet said Sunday that it “completely rejects the scandalous decision of the court that could enable the investigation of Israel for false war crimes.”
“The cabinet determines that the court has no authority to make such a decision. Israel is not a member of the international court and the Palestinian Authority does not have the status of a state,” read the statement, which released by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel is not a member of the ICC and neither is the US. The Palestinians joined the court in 2015.
“The international court was established to prevent horrors such as those that were perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jewish people. Instead, it is persecuting the state of the Jewish people,” the statement said, repeating the words of Netanyahu a day prior.
“Even as it allows the investigation of Israel,” the statement said, “the only democracy in the Middle East that is committed to the rule of law, the court shuts its eyes to the awful war crimes being perpetrated time and again by dark dictatorships such as Iran and Syria.”
The statement continued by saying “the claim that Jews living in their homeland and their capital of Jerusalem constitutes a war crime is scandalous” — a reference to the court potentially probing Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank and conduct in the disputed East Jerusalem.
“The security cabinet instructs the relevant elements to take the necessary steps to protect the interests of the state and to defend its citizens and soldiers,” the statement concluded.
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.