US administration 'backs threats against ICC over warrants for Israeli officials'

Members of Congress have joined efforts to quash any action against Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

US House Speaker Mike Johnson called on the White House to “use every available tool" to prevent the ICC from issuing arrest warrants for Israeli leaders. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

US President Joe Biden's administration is calling on the International Criminal Court to "stand down", amid warnings of arrest warrants against senior Israeli officials for war crimes, House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters.

Mr Johnson threatened the court amid reports that the UN court may issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and military chief of staff Herzi Halevi.

"They'd better not do that … I think that it would make us as a nation respond in kind to the ICC," the Republican leader said.

"I think a group of senators and House members who would move expeditiously and we might just turn the table on the ICC. They better be careful."

The Biden administration is on the same page, according to Mr Johnson.

He spoke on Tuesday afternoon to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who "confirmed that the position of the White House is our position … they are calling for the ICC to stand down".

The chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Michael McCaul, on Monday echoed those warnings from his party leadership.

Mr McCaul said in a statement that any ICC warrant against Israel would "be a big mistake, are wholly unjustified, and would set a dangerous precedent".

Israel does not recognise the authority of the ICC, but issuing warrants would mean that the 124 countries signed up to the body are obliged to arrest Israeli officials if they enter their territory.

Nations that recognise the court’s authority include the UK, the Netherlands and Germany, all major allies of Israel. The US, Israel’s most important ally, does not.

But Washington's adversaries have been quick to point out what they call hypocrisy in the US response to war crimes investigations on Israel, whose Gaza war has killed almost 35,000 Palestinians, including children at a higher rate than in any modern conflict.

Mr Biden last year said that the ICC decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin was justified over the invasion of Ukraine.

"Washington fully supported, if not stimulated, the issuance of ICC warrants against the Russian leadership," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a post on Telegram.

But "the American political system does not recognise the legitimacy of this structure in relation to itself and its satellites".

Arrest warrants would also be one of the most severe diplomatic blows to Israel since the start of the Gaza War.

Israel already faces widespread accusations of attacking civilians and creating a humanitarian crisis in Gaza to put pressure on Hamas, as well as a genocide case at the International Court of Justice.

“This is the first time that the occupation leaders fear punishment after silence has become impossible. Israel has always, in various ways, tried to hide its crimes,” a Palestinian political source told The National.

“But all of that went to waste with this war, which revealed the nature of the occupation, the reality of its political and military leaders and the brutality they are.”

The reports of potential action by the ICC come at a particularly sensitive time in Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

While a centrist faction wants to prioritise the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, including through a deal with Hamas, the more hardline ministers are calling on him to push forward with the military campaign against the group by attacking the southern Gazan city of Rafah.

Both sides have said that his coalition will be untenable if their demands are not met.

The Biden administration and other Israeli allies also fear ICC warrants could derail talks with Hamas to release hostages, which have entered a critical phase, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

Former Israeli hostage negotiator Gershon Baskin told The National that he did not think the prospect of ICC action would derail talks, and that the rumours they might could be “an Israeli tactic” to delay the warrants.

“If they issue indictments it would be interesting to see if any of the countries Israel cares about would implement them,” he said.

“The ICC issues warrants against lots of different people around the world, who often have immunity in the places they travel to.”

Updated: April 30, 2024, 7:29 PM