Potential ICC warrants pose mixed threat to Israelis, Western relations

by Will Tubbs

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

In the past days, much has been made of rumored warrants the International Criminal Court is considering for numerous Israeli officials over the war in Gaza, but the issue goes deeper than any prosecutions the ICC might attempt to launch. 

The headline-grabbing factoid this week was that the ICC could issue warrants against numerous top-ranking Israeli officials, including President Benjamin Netanyahu. 

To be sure, the news was received poorly in Israel and the United States, with leaders from both countries decrying the news. 

Netanyahu said such warrants would constitute an antisemitic hate crime and vowed Israel would “never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defense. While the ICC will not affect Israel’s actions, it would set a dangerous precedent.”

The likelihood of anyone from Israel being affected by an ICC warrant in any real way is remote. A warrant would be little more than a ceremonial gesture. The court has no police force and necessarily relies on the cooperation of member nations in apprehending those for whom warrants are sworn. 

Israel is notably not a member of the ICC and has never recognized the body’s authority, so there is no treaty in existence that can be used as evidence Israel should voluntarily cooperate. 

But Israel is not even the most prominent nation to not recognize the ICC or to have not signed the Rome Statute, the document that created the court. 

Russia, China and the United States are far more prominent, and all, for vastly different reasons, do not officially endorse the ICC. 

The U.S. stance is the one that makes any arrest of an Israeli official unlikely. Even if a warrant is issued, the only way anyone from Israel would be arrested would be if they visited a nation willing to affect the arrest and simultaneously anger the U.S.

Few nations – at least few that an Israeli leader is likely to visit – would be willing to run that gambit. 

And make no mistake, the United States is resolute that ICC warrants against Israelis not materialize. Thursday, Axios reported that a group of bipartisan senators were meeting with ICC representatives to prevent such an eventuality. 

In the latest reminder of the strange alliances that emerge in U.S. politics over matters of Israel, many of the highest-ranking Republicans and Democrats in Washington have rallied on the side of the Jewish nation. 

“Such a lawless action by the ICC would directly undermine US national security interests,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said Monday. “If unchallenged by the Biden administration, the ICC could create and assume unprecedented power to issue arrest warrants against American political leaders, American diplomats, and American military personnel, thereby endangering our country’s sovereign authority.”

Members of the House of Representatives are already floating the idea of sanctioning the ICC if it proceeds with the warrants. 

Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres (N.Y.) promised “strong consequences from both Congress and the President.” 

ALLEGATIONS OF HYPOCRISY

As spirited as American leaders’ defense of Israel has been, it has opened the nation to accusations of applying a double standard. 

The U.S. endorsed an ICC warrant sworn against Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose nation is not a Rome Statute signatory, but says a warrant against Israeli leaders would be inappropriate because Israel didn’t sign the same statute. 

“Washington fully supported, if not stimulated, the issuance of ICC warrants against the Russian leadership,” Reuters quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova as saying. She added that “the American political system does not recognize the legitimacy of this structure in relation to itself and its satellites.”

PREVIOUS US-ICC STRUGGLES

There is precedent for the United States sanctioning the ICC. 

Then-President Donald Trump levied economic and travel sanctions against members of the ICC in 2020 when the court was investigating the intelligence agents of the U.S. and its allies over actions in Afghanistan. 

President Biden notably lifted those sanctions in 2021 in one of his many efforts to signal that he was more diplomatically savvy than Trump. 

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