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Int’l Criminal Court Seeks Arrest Warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant & Hamas Leaders for War Crimes

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The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has announced he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three leaders of Hamas: Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Deif. The charges against Netanyahu and Gallant include starvation of civilians, extermination, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, among other crimes. The charges against the Hamas leaders include extermination, murder, taking hostages, rape, among other crimes. “It places Israel’s leaders of this genocidal onslaught on the Gaza Strip in the dock,” says Middle East analyst Mouin Rabbani, who explains why this will be “very significant” for Israel’s allies and signatories to the ICC. “They now have to make a choice between Israeli impunity and obligations under the Rome Statute.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has announced he’s seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders — the head of the group, Yahya Sinwar; the head of the political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh; and the head of Hamas’s militant wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, Mohammed Deif. ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan discussed the case in an interview today on CNN with Christiane Amanpour. He began by talking about the charges against Hamas.

KARIM KHAN: The charges are extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape and sexual assault in detention. So, these are the key crimes that are alleged to have been committed by these three individuals. The world was shocked on the 7th of October when people were ripped from their bedrooms, from their homes, from the different kibbutzim in Israel, and people have suffered enormously. And we have a variety of evidence to support the applications that we’ve submitted to the judges.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: You have also issued warrants against the top political and military leadership of the government of the state of Israel.

KARIM KHAN: We’ve applied for warrants. Of course, the judges must determine whether or not to issue them, but we’ve applied today. We’ll apply for warrants for Prime Minister Netanyahu and also Minister of Defense Gallant for the crimes of causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan on CNN this morning. Netanyahu responded to the possible ICC arrest warrants.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] This court has no authority over the state of Israel. The possibility that it will issue an arrest warrant for war crimes against IDF commanders and state leaders, this possibility is a scandal of a historic scale. Eighty years after the Holocaust, the international bodies that were founded to prevent another Holocaust are considering denying the Jewish state its right to defend itself. To defend itself against who? Against those who acted and are still working openly to commit genocide against us. What an absurdity. What a distortion of justice and of history. This will be the first time that a democratic country, which is fighting for its life, according to all the rules of international law, is accused of war crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: That clip of the prime minister was from April. For more, we’re joined by Middle East analyst Mouin Rabbani. He is an editor of Jadaliyya and host of the Connections podcast. He’s contributor to the new book, Deluge: Gaza and Israel from Crisis to Cataclysm. He was previously a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, joining us from Montreal.

Mouin, thanks so much for being with us. This story broke just before we went to air. Can you talk about the significance of these charges, if the ICC court decides to bring them?

MOUIN RABBANI: I think they’re very significant, because it places Israel’s leaders of this genocidal onslaught on the Gaza Strip in the dock. And, of course, prosecutor Karim Khan is also seeking the arrest of three Hamas leaders. I think there’s also a lot that can be said about this.

For Karim Khan, once again, history begins on October 7th. Even though his investigation has, by his own account, been ongoing for a number of years and is supposed to take into account all crimes committed since 2014, he has yet to address any crimes between 2014 and 2023 — notably, the crime of apartheid, the crime of illegal settlements in occupied territories, Israel’s — and, for that matter, Hamas’s — conduct in the 2014 war and in 2021.

And the other thing that struck me is Khan’s attempt to, let’s say, place the onus primarily on Hamas. So, he’s indicted three Hamas leaders and two Israeli leaders. And what struck me is that he is seeking the arrest of Hamas’s titular leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who, according to most accounts, was not involved in the planning and execution of the Hamas attacks of October 7th — presumably, there is some element of command responsibility involved — but he has not sought the arrest of either Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, or the Israeli chief of staff or any of the commanding officers involved in Israel’s onslaught since October 7th, nor, for that matter, other key decision-makers in Israel’s war cabinet, like Benny Gantz, like Gadi Eisenkot and others.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about what this practically means, Mouin Rabbani?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, I think it will have more impact on — assuming, again, that the arrest warrants are indeed issued — it will have more effect on Israel, I think, than on Hamas. I mean, when is the last time you saw Hamas leaders going on a shopping trip in Paris or London? It’s Israeli leaders who will need to travel to Europe and elsewhere, where they would face the prospect of arrest. And I think this also puts other countries in the dock. Will they now — they now have to make a choice between Israeli impunity and their obligations under the Rome Statute, at least those who are members of the International Criminal Court.

And again, I think, in broader political terms, this is of massive significance, despite all the shortcomings that I’ve just been discussed. This means that Israel’s leaders are indicted war criminals. And we heard the clip of Netanyahu once again trying to hide behind the Holocaust and what he claims is Israeli democracy and so on. That’s no longer going to fly. That edifice has been peeled away. Israel will now be seen and judged on the basis of its actions in real time rather than on history in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean for the United States, for the U.S. main ally, Israel, its ally, indicted on war crimes?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, I think that’s another key issue. The U.S., of course, rejects the International Criminal Court and rejects its jurisdiction over this issue. But I think there’s another key point here, which is all the threats that are being made by the United States, particularly most recently by a group of Republican senators, threatening all kinds of reprisals and retaliations against the International Criminal Court if it were to proceed with this measure. And this is a crime in and of itself. So, it will be very interesting to see if the U.S. follows through on those threats and, if it does, how the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will react.

If I can just make one additional point, the reason we’ve gotten to this, to where we are today, is actually because of Hamas. About a decade ago, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was coming under increasing Palestinian criticism and condemnation for dragging his feet on the Palestinian application to ratify the Rome Statute and become a part of the International Criminal Court. He said he would only do so if he had the explicit endorsement to do so of the Hamas leadership. And it was only after he obtained that that Palestine sought to become a state party to the International Criminal Court. So, here you have a situation where it is the Palestinians who have been calling for an investigation of all crimes committed in what’s called the situation of Palestine, whether by themselves or anyone else, and Israel and the United States categorically rejecting the court’s jurisdiction and any measures that it may take.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Israel and the United States are not signatories to the ICC.

MOUIN RABBANI: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: But I’m just looking at this New York Times article from last July: “President Biden has quietly ordered the U.S. government to begin sharing evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, according to officials familiar with the matter, signaling a major shift in American policy.” And, of course, Russia also wasn’t a signatory, and Putin was indicted. Talk about that kind of cooperation with the ICC in that case, but certainly not in this case.

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, that’s called the rules-based international order, where you apply international law and the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and so on to your enemies and adversaries, but you reject them for yourself and your allies, because, there, the rule is total impunity and to do as you please.

And I should say that Karim Khan himself played a rather nefarious role in this. Upon assuming his position of prosecutor, he briefed the Security Council and informed the Security Council that he would only pursue those cases referred to him by the council. And that was a clear signal that he was no longer going to pursue the cases in Afghanistan and Palestine. He did so before Russia invaded Ukraine. Once Russia did invade Ukraine, that principle went out the window, and he basically did the bidding of those who had supported his campaign to become prosecutor. And I think it’s also in that broader context that his continued ability to slow-foot and marginalize and ignore the situation in Palestine, particularly in the context of the current genocide, became untenable.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you, finally, tell us who Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh, who lives right in Doha, in Qatar, and Mohammed Deif are?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, I should add that Qatar is also not a signatory to the Rome Statute, and so, therefore, this should, in principle, not lead to Haniyeh’s extradition to The Hague. Ismail Haniyeh is the head of the Politburo of Hamas and, therefore, the titular leader of the organization. Yahya Sinwar is the leader of Hamas within the Gaza Strip and at the same time is seen as the most powerful leader within the movement as a whole. And Mohammed Deif is the head of the Martyr Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. And Sinwar and Reif specifically are also seen as the main architects of the October 7th attacks in southern Israel and Hamas’s military strategy in the months since.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mouin Rabbani, we want to thank you for being with us, Middle East analyst, co-editor of Jadaliyya and host of the Connections podcast, former senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, contributor to the book, Deluge: Gaza and Israel from Crisis to Cataclysm.

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