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War in Middle East rages on despite ICC arrest warrants

In the short term, the move by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor to seek the arrests of Israeli and Hamas leaders for war crimes doesn't look like it will stop the fighting.

(CN) — The prospect for an end to the bloodshed in the Middle East conflict appeared dim on Tuesday with little sign that likely arrest warrants against Israeli and Hamas leaders by the International Criminal Court will do much to end the fighting, at least in the short term.

By Tuesday, domestic support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be strengthening rather than diminishing following a request on Monday by the ICC's chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, to arrest him and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes over the assault on Gaza.

Israel, like many other nations including the United States, Russia, China and India, does not recognize the court's jurisdiction, making it highly unlikely that Netanyahu and Gallant will face prosecution any time soon.

Political analysts and allies of Israel, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, warned the move to arrest Netanyahu and Gallant actually may hurt efforts to bring about a cease-fire.

Israel has continued to carry out its invasion of Gaza with Gaza's health ministry reporting Tuesday that 85 people were killed and 200 injured in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total to 35,647 deaths in Gaza since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, killing more than 1,200 Israelis.

“The decision to seek the warrant elevates Netanyahu and may aid his domestic position as Israelis, who have long been critical of the ICC across the political spectrum and are even more so now, will rally around the flag,” Jonathan Panikoff, a Middle East affairs expert at the Atlantic Council think tank, said in a commentary.

“Netanyahu is likely to use this announcement to claim that he is being persecuted for defending Israel, an argument likely to resonate with the broader Israeli public,” Panikoff said. “This domestic reaction might even provide him greater freedom of action in his decision making, including to engage in additional military operations in Gaza, ultimately extending the conflict.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Khan's move was “not helpful.”

“This action is not helpful in relation to reaching a pause in the fighting, getting hostages out or getting humanitarian aid in,” the spokesperson said, as quoted by British media.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed that view.

“Fundamentally, this decision does nothing to help, and could jeopardize, ongoing efforts to reach a cease-fire agreement that would get hostages out and surge humanitarian assistance in, which are the goals the United States continues to pursue relentlessly,” Blinken said in a statement.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a far-right leader who strongly supports Israel, said Khan's efforts "will not bring the Middle East closer to peace, but only fuel further tensions.”

Not all Western governments opposed Khan's case against Netanyahu and Gallant, however.

In Europe, the governments of France, Belgium and Slovenia were among those expressing support for Khan's findings.

“France supports the International Criminal Court, its independence and the fight against impunity in all situations,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement late Monday.

Even Germany, Israel's staunchest European supporter, said it respected the court's work and that “international humanitarian law” applies to Israel.

Following Khan's announcement, Israel's political establishment, including Netanyahu's rivals, came to his support and denounced the ICC. Gallant, the defense minister facing war crimes charges, said Khan was involved in a “disgraceful” bid to interfere in Israel’s more than seven-month-old Gaza war against Hamas.

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich compared Khan's move to Nazi Germany propaganda.

“We haven’t seen such a show of hypocrisy and hatred of Jews like that of the Hague Tribunal since Nazi propaganda,” Smotrich said on X. He added that all Israelis should feel as though arrest warrants were issued against them, too.

On Tuesday, the Israeli government called on “civilized nations” to reject the arrest warrants.

“We call on the nations of the civilized, free world — nations who despise terrorists and anyone who supports them — to stand by Israel. You should outright condemn this step,” government spokesperson Tal Heinrich said. “Make sure the ICC understands where you stand. Oppose the prosecutor’s decision and declare that, even if warrants are issued, you do not intend to enforce them. Because this is not about our leaders. It’s about our survival.”

Khan also is asking The Hague-based court to issue arrest warrants for three top Hamas leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh, the militant group's Qatar-based lead diplomat who's been involved in cease-fire negotiations. An arrest warrant may prevent Haniyeh from taking part in negotiations in countries that recognize the court's jurisdiction, and as a result potentially hamper cease-fire talks.

Haniyeh has frequently traveled across the region for talks, though most countries in the Middle East, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have either not signed or not ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC.

A three-judge ICC panel will decide whether to approve the indictments, but it seems likely to do so. Until now, the court has only refused one arrest warrant request.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Criminal, International, Law

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