Cabinet set to discuss matter with presentation from PM

US lawmakers threaten retaliation against UN court over potential Israel arrest warrants

Axios reports legislation already being worked on; several nations said to urge ICC not to charge top Israeli officials with war crimes for fear it may endanger truce, hostage deal

File - A demonstrators poses with a Palestinian flag outside the International Criminal Court (ICC) during a rally urging the court to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes, in The Hague, Netherlands, November 29, 2019. (Peter Dejong/AP)
File - A demonstrators poses with a Palestinian flag outside the International Criminal Court (ICC) during a rally urging the court to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes, in The Hague, Netherlands, November 29, 2019. (Peter Dejong/AP)

US Congress members from both parties have reportedly warned the International Criminal Court that Washington will retaliate against the court if it issues arrest warrants against top Israeli officials, amid fears that such a move could sink a hostages-for-truce agreement in the works between Israel and Hamas.

The Axios news site reported Monday that US legislation on the reported warrants was already being worked on, citing House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, as expecting a bill to sanction ICC officials.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that,” McCaul was quoted as saying.

US House Speaker Mike Johnson slammed as “disgraceful” the ICC’s reported intention of issuing “baseless and illegitimate arrest warrants” for alleged war crimes against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi.

“Such a lawless action by the ICC would directly undermine US national security interests,” Johnson said Monday. “If unchallenged by the Biden administration, the ICC could create and assume unprecedented power to issue arrest warrants against American political leaders, American diplomats, and American military personnel, thereby endangering our country’s sovereign authority.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres, a staunchly pro-Israel Democrat, also criticized the potential warrants, calling for “strong consequences from both Congress and the President,” according to the Axios report.

File – Activists hold up a banner denouncing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Israel’s actions during the war with Hamas as they demonstrate at the entrance of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, October 23, 2023. (Aleks Furtula/AP)

The ICC is a treaty-based criminal court focusing on individual criminal responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Also Monday, a Bloomberg report cited unnamed sources families with the matter as saying that the US and allied nations were worried that if the ICC issues warrants, Israel could back away from a hostage deal agreement currently under negotiation that would see a 40-day pause in fighting in Gaza and the release of potentially thousands of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for 33 of the hostages held by terror groups in Gaza since October 7.

The report said G7 nations had begun a quiet campaign to dissuade the court from issuing the warrants, without specifying which countries were involved in the effort.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Monday that if the court does issue arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, it would lead to “a wave of antisemitism around the world” and could blow up the potential hostage deal.

The official explained that this was not an Israeli threat to walk away from talks in case of an ICC decision, but rather reflected Washington’s belief that international pressure on Israel could remove pressure on Hamas to make compromises necessary for a hostage and truce deal.

From left: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi at a cadets graduation ceremony at the IDF’s officers school in southern Israel, known as Bahad 1, March 7, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The issue of potential ICC arrest warrants was set to be discussed in Tuesday afternoon’s cabinet meeting in Israel as the first item on the agenda.

Hebrew media said the item was added late, and that Netanyahu himself was expected to make a presentation on the matter.

Foreign diplomatic officials like US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the UK’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron expressed their hopes over the weekend that Hamas would accept Israel’s latest “extraordinarily generous” offer for a hostage deal.

Additionally, a White House spokesperson reiterated US opposition to the investigation on Monday, saying: “The ICC has no jurisdiction in this situation, and we do not support its investigation.”

Meanwhile, five Israeli and foreign officials told The New York Times on Friday that they believed the ICC was weighing arrest warrants for Hamas leaders as well.

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)

The office of the court’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan has been investigating the terrorist organization for its October 7 attack on Israel, as well as Israel’s conduct in the war that it has waged since then.

An Israeli team has been working for weeks to try to prevent the ICC from issuing arrest warrants against Israeli officials.

An official on that team told the Ynet news site on Saturday that there was concern the court would issue secret orders, and that the officials would only know they were wanted when they traveled to another country.

Hamas’s unprecedented onslaught on southern Israeli communities and army bases saw terrorists murder some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and take 253 hostages. Footage from the attack as well as testimonies from eyewitnesses and victims show the terrorists utilized extreme physical, psychological, and sexual abuse during the attack and on hostages in Gaza.

Israel believes 129 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, although not all of them are alive. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34, while last week, Hamas released videos showing signs of life from Hersh Goldberg-Polin, Keith Siegel, and Omri Miran.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says that more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ensuing war. That number cannot be independently verified and is believed to include both Hamas terror operatives and civilians, some of whom were killed as a consequence of the terror group’s own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 fighters in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists who were killed inside Israel on and immediately following October 7. Two hundred and sixty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed since the ground invasion began at the end of October. Together with soldiers killed on or immediately after October 7, the military’s casualties number over 600.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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