Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?

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Combo image showing Palestinians reeling from the impact of the Israeli bombardment of their homes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 28, 2024, as the Netanyahu government ignored pleas by the UN and Israel's own allies not to invade the enclave to spare civilians of more sufferings. (REUTERS photos)
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=Israeli soldiers gather near the border with the Gaza Strip in Israel after their return from the Gaza Strip on December 31, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 30 May 2024

Will proposed ICC arrest warrants for Gaza war figures deliver justice for Palestinians?

  • International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan hopes to bring senior Israeli and Hamas leaders to trial
  • Some experts think the move is intended to nudge the warring parties toward a hostage deal and a ceasefire

LONDON: By applying for arrest warrants for senior Israeli ministers and Hamas commanders, Karim Khan, prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, has thrust the court itself into the spotlight, raising questions about the move’s likelihood of success and timing.

Calling it “totally absurd” and “a travesty of justice,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Khan’s decision to seek arrest warrants against him and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, together with several Hamas commanders, for war crimes.

A protester shows a sign bearing portraits of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu transformed to Nazi Germany's leader Adolf Hitler during a demonstration called by French organization "France Palestine Solidarite" in Paris, on May 27, 2024. (AFP)

For his part, Gallant labeled the proposed warrants against him and his prime minister as “disgraceful,” claiming that it was motivated by a desire to reverse the foundation of the state of Israel.

Considering the scant likelihood in this case of an ICC arrest warrant being acted upon — a move Hassan Imran, a senior legal adviser at human rights organization Law for Palestine, told Arab News would be “precedent-making” — it raises the question: What is motivating Khan?

Exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on April 30, 2024.  (AP/File) 

Julie Norman, a senior associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, believes the proposed arrest warrants could be intended to nudge the warring parties toward a deal.

“Supporters of the move are hoping the charges will add pressure for both sides to end the conflict, for Hamas to release the hostages, and for Israel to increase access to humanitarian aid in Gaza,” said Norman.

Although some have said the ICC’s action would complicate any ceasefire negotiations, Mark Kersten, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Canada’s University of the Fraser Valley, told a Middle Eastern news outlet that “complicated” did not necessarily equate to “worse” negotiations.


• The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and tribunal seat in The Hague, Netherlands.

• The ICC is distinct from the International Court of Justice, a UN organ that hears disputes between states.

• The ICC was established in 2002 in a follow-up of the multilateral Rome Statute.

“Take Colombia, where the ICC had a decade-long preliminary examination,” he said. “Accountability processes negotiated during the peace process there translated into meaningful justice for many of the wartime atrocities committed by the government and the rebels.

“Moreover, for the ICC to undermine negotiations, there must be a realistic prospect of a peace process. If such negotiations do not exist, the claim that pursuing accountability will ruin them is likely a red herring — an argument intended to shield the perpetrators of atrocities.”

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a camp area housing internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27. (AFP)

Khan’s request has gone to the ICC’s pre-trial chamber, where it will now be down to the three sitting judges — Romania’s Iulia Motoc, Benin’s Reine Alapini-Gansou, and France’s Nicolas Guillou — to determine whether to take action or not.

After seven months of fact-finding, lawyers believe Khan’s case is strong: Netanyahu and Gallant have been accused of using starvation as a weapon of war, willfully causing suffering, willfully killing, intentionally attacking civilian populations, extermination and persecution.

Sergey Vasiliev, associate professor of law at the University of Amsterdam, told Turkiye’s Anadolu news agency that the ICC judges now have to decide whether there are reasonable grounds the accused committed the crimes and if an arrest, as opposed to a summons, is necessary.

“I expect the judges to grant the request. I assume the investigation has been conducted thoroughly over the past seven months, the evidence amply sufficient to meet the threshold and it to be a concise yet compelling legal narrative,” said Vasiliev. 

Judges of the committee of the International Criminal Court Committee are assembled at the ICC headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. (ICC file photo)

Justifying his position, Vasiliev said the standard for “reasonable grounds” was not as demanding as the more onerous “substantial grounds to believe,” adding that applications for arrest warrants were not “generally expected to provide elaborate analysis of the evidence.”

As to the timeline, some commentators expect the judges will make their decision in the near future.

“I think it is a matter of days until we know if the arrest warrants will be issued and then all 124 states that are members of the court are obligated to take action on them,” Gershon Baskin, Middle East director at the International Communities Organization, told Arab News. 

Children enjoy the luxury of riding atop a vehicle as many other Palestinians travel on foot along with their belongings to flee Rafah on May 28, 2024 , due to an Israeli military operation on May 28, 2024. (REUTERS)

Given that the ICC neither carries out arrests nor tries people in absentia, the question then becomes one of enforcement. There has been little sign of Israel handing over its own people, with Gallant stressing “it is not a party and does not recognize its authority.”

Nor do Gallant and Netanyahu have to worry about the US turning them over to the ICC. Khan’s move has engendered a rare moment of concord across the aisle, with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham pushing to censure the ICC.

Graham received a positive response from Secretary of State Antony Blinken after asking: “I want to take actions, not just words. Will you support a bipartisan effort to sanction the ICC — not only for the outrage against Israel but to protect, in the future, our own interests?”

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gives a statement to the press during his visit in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 29, 2024. (REUTERS)

Catching some off-guard, particularly given its vocal support for Israel and having echoed other European states in describing the ICC move as “deeply unhelpful,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed Germany would not defy an ICC arrest warrant were one to be issued.

On Monday, Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Israel’s legal system is actively investigating allegations of possible criminal misconduct during the war in Gaza and that Khan’s request for arrest warrants was therefore hasty and inappropriate. 

“The states that established the court saw it as a tool for dealing with situations where there is ‘no law and no judge.’ That is not our situation,” Baharav-Miara told a conference of the Israel Bar Association.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“It would have been more correct for the prosecutor to wait until the internal state procedures were completed before making a decision. It would have been right to give the state of Israel a fair opportunity in this regard.”

Julia Roknifard, an assistant professor at the University of Nottingham’s School of Politics, History, and International Relations, says that in all likelihood, the ICC will not see a case actioned given the lack of jurisdiction it has over Israel itself.

“Netanyahu liked to travel to the US, but I don’t think he is welcome there now, and I don’t think he is in the mood right now to travel at all, so I think it is very unlikely that we would see an arrest were a warrant issued,” Roknifard told Arab News.

Echoing Roknifard, Baskin said it was highly unlikely that Gallant and Netanyahu would travel to any country in which they had any concern of being arrested and handed over to the ICC, describing warrants as “kind of a moot point.”

Roknifard does not believe Khan is pursuing warrants for mere symbolic reasons. “I wouldn’t read into the ICC motion more than it is supposed to be — to charge individuals with the crimes they have (allegedly) committed,” she said

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan. (AFP)

Instead, like Imran, Roknifard touts the importance of the case brought by South Africa to the International Court of Justice, which last week ordered Israel to cease its offensive in Rafah — an order that Israel has ignored.

Commenting on Khan’s proposed arrest warrants, Imran said he saw it as less about a particular case and more about the future, or lack thereof, of the ICC.

“European states, I think, now have to make a choice between the institutions they have been supporting financially and their calls for a rules-based order modeled around international law and their support for Israel,” Imran told Arab News.

“We have seen many of them criticize the court in the wake of Khan’s announcement, and now we see some stating they will respect the decision, but it’s hard to tell what they will do were Netanyahu to actually travel to their territory with an arrest warrant out for him.

“Some will try and beat around the bush. But if they did not apply the decision, they would be essentially disowning this international institution and basically disintegrating the ICC and, if they do, that means they will have to change their policy goals.”


US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks

Updated 21 June 2024

US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks

  • The UN has said it welcomes all efforts to bring in aid, but that land routes are the most important routes for the arrival of assistance

WASHINGTON: The controversial US effort to boost Gaza aid deliveries by building a temporary pier has faced repeated problems, with bad weather damaging the structure and causing other interruptions to the arrival of desperately needed assistance.
More than 4,100 metric tons (nine million pounds) of aid has been delivered via the $230 million pier project so far, but it has only been operational for limited periods, falling short of President Joe Biden’s pledge that it would enable a “massive increase” in assistance reaching Gaza “every day.”
The coastal territory has been devastated by more than eight months of Israeli operations against Palestinian militant group Hamas, uprooting Gaza’s population and leaving them in dire need of aid.
“The Gaza pier regretfully amounted to an extremely expensive distraction from what is truly needed, and what is also legally required,” said Michelle Strucke, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Humanitarian Agenda.
That is “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access for humanitarian organizations to provide aid for a population in Gaza that is suffering historic levels of deprivation,” she said.
US forces have also dropped aid by air, but that plus deliveries via the pier “were never meant to substitute for scaled, sustainable access to land crossings that provided safe access by humanitarian workers to provide aid,” Strucke said.
“Pursuing them took away decision makers’ time, energy, and more than $200 million US taxpayer dollars.”
Biden announced during his State of the Union address in March that the US military would establish the pier and American troops began constructing it the following month, initially working offshore.
But in a sign of issues to come, high seas and winds required construction to be relocated to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The pier was completed in early May, but weather conditions meant it was unsafe to immediately move it into place, and it was not attached to the Gaza coast until the middle of the month.
High seas caused four US Army vessels supporting the mission to break free of their moorings on May 25, beaching two of them, and the pier was damaged by bad weather three days later, requiring sections to be repaired and rebuilt at Ashdod.
It was reattached to the coast on June 7, but aid deliveries were soon paused for two days due to bad weather conditions.
The pier then had to be removed from the shore and moved to Ashdod on June 14 to protect it from high seas. It was returned to Gaza this week and aid deliveries have now resumed.
Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation research group, said the “pier effort has yet to produce the results that the Biden administration hoped.”
“Aside from the weather issues, it’s been quite expensive and has not fixed the operational challenges of getting aid into Gaza,” he said.
Cohen said that despite the issues with the pier, it does provide another entry point for aid and allows assistance to be brought in even when land crossings are closed — a persistent problem that has worsened the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
And he said the effort may also help improve future deployments of the military’s temporary pier capability, which was last used operationally more than a decade ago in Haiti.
In addition to weather, the project is facing a major challenge in terms of the distribution of aid that arrives via the pier, which the UN World Food Programme decided to halt while it assesses the security situation — an evaluation that is still ongoing.
That announcement came after Israel conducted a nearby operation earlier this month that freed four hostages but which health officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza said killed more than 270 people.
The UN has said it welcomes all efforts to bring in aid, but that land routes are the most important routes for the arrival of assistance.
Strucke emphasized that “what Gazans need is not the appearance of aid — they need actual aid to reach them.”
Washington “should be very careful not to support actions that may look good on paper to increase routes to provide assistance, but do not result in aid actually reaching Palestinians in need at scale,” she said.

US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea

Updated 21 June 2024

US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea

  • The Houthis are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises

WASHINGTON: The US military said Thursday that it had destroyed four Houthi nautical drones and two aerial ones over the Red Sea off Yemen.
The Iran-backed Houthis have launched scores of drones and missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November, describing the attacks as being in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The United States and its allies, particularly Britain, have responded with an increased naval presence to defend shipping in the vital waterway and with retaliatory strikes on Houthi targets.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement Thursday night that its forces had “destroyed four Iranian-backed Houthi uncrewed surface vessels (USV) in the Red Sea and two uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) over the Red Sea” in the past 24 hours.
CENTCOM said the day before that it had destroyed “one ground control station and one command and control node” in a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen.
This week, a merchant ship whose hull was breached in an earlier Houthi attack, the M/V Tutor, was believed to have sunk in the Red Sea after its crew was evacuated, according to a maritime security agency run by the British navy.
A Filipino sailor aboard the vessel was killed in the attack.
A Sri Lankan crew member on another ship, the M/V Verbena, was seriously injured in a separate attack, and the vessel had to be abandoned.
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller condemned those attacks in a statement and said Washington would “continue to take necessary action to protect freedom of navigation and commercial shipping.”
He also called on the Houthis “to release all detainees, including the United Nations, diplomatic, and non-governmental organization staff they detained earlier this month.”
The Houthis earlier this month arrested a number of people they claimed were part of a US-Israeli spy network, adding that those held worked under “the cover of international organizations and UN agencies.”
The heads of six United Nations agencies and three international NGOs subsequently issued a joint call for the release of their staff, with UN rights chief Volker Turk dismissing the spying accusations as “outrageous.”
The Houthis are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. More than half of the population is dependent on aid in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.

Blinken tells Israeli officials of need to avoid further escalation with Lebanon

Updated 21 June 2024

Blinken tells Israeli officials of need to avoid further escalation with Lebanon

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli officials during a meeting on Thursday of the need to avoid further escalation in Lebanon amid the war in Gaza, the State Department said.
Blinken was meeting Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs.

Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote

Updated 21 June 2024

Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote

  • Qalibaf is a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard

TEHRAN, Iran: In the second live debate on state television, six presidential candidates on Thursday discussed Iran’s economic problems ahead of the country’s June 28 election following a helicopter crash last month that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and seven others.
It was the second of five debates planned in the days before the vote in a shortened campaign to replace Raisi, a hard-line protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once floated as a possible successor to the 85-year-old cleric.
Like the first debate, the second one also related to economics with the candidates discussing their proposals for Iran’s spiraling economy which is struggling under sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western nations.
The candidates also discussed inflation, the budget deficit, fuel consumption subsidies and education. They all promised to try to get the sanctions lifted and to introduce reforms, but none offered concrete details.
“Negotiation is a method of struggle,” said prominent candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, 62, with regards to getting the Western sanctions on Iran lifted. Qalibaf is a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
He emphasized the destructiveness of the sanctions on the economy and said that Iranians have a right to a good life, not just an ordinary life.
Iran’s vice president, Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, 53, said he will continue Raisi’s unfinished administration and vowed to develop the tourism industry.
Regarding the health sector and the emigration of doctors and nurses abroad, Qalibaf said there should be a fundamental change in the way health workers are paid to increase the motivation to stay.
Many doctors and nurses reportedly have left Iran in recent years over its deepening economic woes and poor working conditions. Qalibaf’s call for more pay for health workers was repeated by the other candidates.
All the candidates said they believe the Education Ministry is the most important part of the government because “the next generation of the country is raised in this ministry.” Qalibaf said the ministry’s budget must be increased.
The one pro-reform candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian, who is backed by pro-reform figures such as former President Mohammad Khatami and former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, thinks the economic crisis can be resolved by solving party differences inside the country as well as external factors.
The June 28 election comes at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program, its arming of Russia in that country’s war on Ukraine and its wide-reaching crackdowns on dissent.
Iran’s support of militia proxy forces throughout the wider Middle East, meanwhile, has been increasingly in the spotlight as Iran-backed Yemen’s Houthi rebels attack ships in the Red Sea over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.


South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks

Updated 21 June 2024

South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks

  • The former rebel leader signed an agreement with President Salva Kiir in 2018 that ended a five-year civil war that killed about 400,000 people

JUBA, South Sudan: South Sudan ‘s vice president said Thursday that peace talks in neighboring Kenya have failed to acknowledge the country’s peace agreement established in 2018, alleging a new draft agreement is aimed at replacing the original peace deal.
Riek Machar in a protest letter to the talks’ mediator said the draft established alternative institutions to replace or run in parallel with those established by the previous peace agreement. He added that the current peace talks should complement and not obliterate the original deal.
The former rebel leader signed an agreement with President Salva Kiir in 2018 that ended a five-year civil war that killed about 400,000 people. Machar and Kiir were on opposite sides in the war and Machar was appointed vice president after the 2018 deal. His group isn’t part of the current talks, which are for groups that were not included in the 2018 agreement.
Despite the peace deal, violence in South Sudan has continued, most of it attributed to rebel groups and warring ethnic groups.
The body mandated with monitoring the implementation of the 2018 peace deal raised concerns in May over the slow implementation of election related tasks with only a few months left until December elections.
Opposition groups that were not part of the 2018 peace agreement have been in talks in Kenya since May 9 aimed at bringing groups on board ahead of the December elections.
The talks have resulted in a draft agreement that recommends an extension of the transitional period to provide more time for election preparations.
President Kiir on Thursday received a progress report from government representatives in the ongoing talks with the government spokesperson telling media that participants in the talks are close to reaching a final agreement.