Benjamin Netanyahu given a label he will never shake by ICC as Israeli prime minister accused of 'war crimes'

20 May 2024, 13:41 | Updated: 20 May 2024, 16:06

We had heard indications that these charges were coming, but to hear them laid out by the chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, is a huge moment.

Khan, a British lawyer, is seeking arrest warrants against Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant for "war crimes and crimes against humanity".

His charges include "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare", "intentionally directing acts against a civilian population" and "other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity".

It is a damning charge sheet and will not have been issued without careful and considerable thought. Before making this application, Khan sought advice from an expert panel of international lawyers.

Read more: ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Hamas leader

Writing in the Financial Times, they said they spent months analysing and reviewing the evidence before unanimously agreeing there are "reasonable grounds to believe the suspects have committed war crimes".

Khan is also seeking arrest warrants against Hamas leaders Yahyah Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh, also for war crimes.

That was to be expected but to hear Netanyahu's name on the same charge sheet as Sinwar's is extraordinary and deeply humiliating for the Israeli leadership, regardless of the merit of the accusations.

A panel of judges will now consider the evidence and either grant arrest warrants or not. Conscious of past accusations of being slow, they might choose to make that decision reasonably quickly, especially with the war ongoing in Gaza.

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No intention of handing over serving PM

Israel is not a signatory of the ICC, and will have no intention of handing over its serving prime minister if an arrest warrant is issued, but it will make life extremely difficult for the government here.

Netanyahu and Gallant will not be able to travel to any country that is a member of the court, for fear of arrest. The United States is not a signatory, but 124 countries are, including the UK and most other European states.

If the arrest warrants are issued, it will make it very difficult for most of Israel's allies to do business with a government whose leader is wanted for war crimes.

Request will have rattled Netanyahu greatly

These consequences aren't so great for Hamas leaders who are either trapped in Gaza or don't travel outside of friendly countries anyway.

Netanyahu is yet to respond, but this will have rattled him greatly and given him a label he will never be able to shake.

The question is whether this will have any impact on the course of the war, or whether the Israeli prime minister will double down and defy his critics.