The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and three senior Hamas leaders, accusing them of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has accused Netanyahu and Gallant of committing war crimes during Israel’s offensive in Gaza. These include the use of starvation as a weapon of war, murder, extermination, and intentional attacks on civilians. On the other side, Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh are accused of crimes such as extermination, murder, hostage-taking, rape, and torture.

Prime Minister Netanyahu responded with fury, calling the ICC’s decision “a moral outrage of historic proportions.” He defended Israel’s actions, stating that the country is fighting a “just war against Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organisation.” Netanyahu went further to personally attack ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan, comparing him to judges in Nazi Germany and accusing him of fueling global antisemitism.

Hamas has also condemned the ICC’s decision, claiming it equates the victim with the executioner. They argue that the warrants against Israeli leaders should have been issued earlier, accusing Israel of committing numerous crimes against Palestinians.

Meanwhile, human rights groups have welcomed the ICC’s move, arguing it brings much-needed accountability to the conflict.

The decision has sparked a global debate. U.S. President Joe Biden called the ICC’s actions “outrageous” and emphasised that there is “no equivalence” between Israel and Hamas. 

Prosecutor Karim Khan stressed that nobody, no matter their position, should be above the law. His statement highlights the ICC’s commitment to applying international law uniformly, without bias.

But what comes next?

The ICC’s pre-trial judges will now assess the evidence to determine if the arrest warrants should be upheld. Although the court has no direct means to enforce these warrants, member states of the ICC are obliged to arrest the named individuals if they enter their territory. 

South Africans might recall a similar situation when an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin was issued for war crimes related to the ongoing Ukraine war just before his planned visit to South Africa for the 2023 BRICS summit.

South Africa has previously threatened to leave the ICC due to its failure to prosecute war crimes by Western Countries and unfairly targets African governments and leaders. However, in a statement released on 21 May, the South African Government welcomed the decision by the ICC

The ICC’s move supports South Africa’s vocal stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and supports the ongoing International Court of Justice (ICJ) case filed by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide

The ICC’s decision to seek arrest warrants for leaders on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict is a contentious development and highlights the struggle for accountability and justice in a conflict that has deeply divided the international community.