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ICC’s request for arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant reportedly hurt US, UK support

Karim Khan, the International Criminal Court prosecutor, “deceived and lied” to Washington and London, “undermining the entire court,” says human-rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky.

Karim Khan, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, addresses the Security Council Arria-Formula meeting on ensuring accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine,  April 27, 2022. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.
Karim Khan, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, addresses the Security Council Arria-Formula meeting on ensuring accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine, April 27, 2022. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.

The decision by the International Criminal Court prosecutor ahead of his staff’s planned visit to the Jewish state to request arrest warrants for top Israeli officials has reportedly “harmed operational cooperation” with Washington and “angered” London, Reuters reported on Friday.

Planning had been underway for months for a team of staff members of Karim Khan, prosecutor of the court in The Hague, to visit Jerusalem, Ramallah and the Gaza Strip before Khan canceled the trip abruptly on May 20. The ICC official also said that he intended to seek warrants for the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged actions the Jewish state took in response to the Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Washington and London had been working with Khan to travel to the region to gather evidence and speak directly with Israeli officials, Reuters reported. The U.N. prosecutor had also reportedly asked the United States to pressure Israel to allow more unfettered access to his team.

The ICC is independent of but often cooperates with its founder, the United Nations.

Israel and the United States are not signatories to the court, although Britain is a founding member. Neither Washington nor London recognizes a Palestinian state, and neither acknowledges any ICC jurisdiction over Israel. Both, however, offered assistance to Khan.

Last month, the court allowed Britain to file a written submission presenting its legal case as to why the ICC lacks jurisdiction over alleged crimes in Israel’s war against Hamas.

ICC and Israeli officials were set to meet in Jerusalem the same day Khan made the announcement and were hammering final details out for the visit, slated for the following week.

The ICC prosecutor reportedly blindsided his own staff when he announced the pursuit of arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant, in addition to Hamas senior leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.

Khan’s office said the prosecutor proceeded with his request because he had not received evidence from Israel demonstrating “genuine action” to address alleged crimes.

The prosecutor’s decision to announce arrest warrants instead of a fact-finding trip to the region has harmed Washington’s and London’s cooperation with him on other investigations, including in Sudan, sources told Reuters.

Announcement was ‘profoundly wrong-headed’

Arsen Ostrovsky, a human-rights attorney, wrote that the Reuters “blockbuster” reporting demonstrates how Khan “deceived and lied to the U.S. and U.K. over Israeli arrest warrants and canceled the visit to Israel, instead choosing to forego collection of evidence and undermining the entire court.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on May 21 that Khan’s announcement was “profoundly wrong-headed.” He pledged to work with Republicans to impose sanctions against ICC officials.

The Biden administration later backtracked on that commitment.

David Cameron, then the U.K. foreign secretary, reportedly called Khan and threatened to pull Britain out of the ICC while cutting financial support to it.

A pre-trial chamber of three ICC judges is determining whether there are reasonable grounds to issue the arrest warrants, with no timetable in place for making the decisions.

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