ICC Arrest Warrants on Tap for Israeli and Hamas Leaders

International Criminal Court

Israel’s foreign minister on Tuesday to help contain the fallout from the International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan’s decision to seek arrest warrants for some of the country’s top leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

France, Belgium, and Slovenia have for the globe’s top war crimes court after Khan on Monday accused Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders—Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh—of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Today’s applications are the outcome of an independent and impartial investigation by my Office,” Khan wrote in . 

“Guided by our obligation to investigate incriminating and exonerating evidence equally, my Office has worked painstakingly to separate claims from facts and to soberly present conclusions based on evidence to the Pre-Trial Chamber.”

Where do the arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders stand?

The applications for arrest warrants will first need to be approved by a panel of three judges—from Romania, Benin, and Mexico—at the ICC before they can be implemented. It is not guaranteed they will agree to issue the warrants.

“The prosecution is not dumb; they would not mess up at this stage at such an important case everyone is looking at. So I believe the judges will agree on the warrants,” Iva Vukušić, a legal expert at Utrecht University, .

The panel will be under major pressure, including by the U.S and Israel. About a dozen senators wrote to Khan earlier this month warning his office: “Target Israel and we will target you.” Netanyahu has fiercely criticized Khan, calling the events a “moral outrage of historic proportions.”

What happens if the ICC issues the warrants?

If they are issued, it would make it difficult for Israeli and Hamas leaders to travel to countries under the ICC’s jurisdiction. 

Some 124 countries have signed the Rome statute, a treaty that requires them to turn in individuals with active ICC arrest warrants who set foot on their territory. Places under the ICC’s jurisdiction include most of the Western hemisphere—with the notable exception of the U.S.—and Europe and Oceania, plus parts of Africa and Asia. 

The move would be especially significant for Israeli leaders, who frequently shuttle to Western capitals that fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction. 

The last world leader to have a warrant issued for his arrest was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was accused of . The arrest warrant forced him to cancel a trip to South Africa in July 2023.

What would ICC arrest warrants mean for Hamas leaders?

An arrest warrant would have little effect on the ability of Hamas leaders to travel. 

Sinwar and Deif are believed to be in hiding in Gaza. Thousands of Israeli soldiers are actively looking for the two men in the wake of the that killed 1,200 people in Israel.

An ICC arrest warrant would be more complicated for Haniyeh, Hamas’ political leader based in Qatar, who would have to rethink meetings with other Arab leaders in the region. 

But the Gulf Cooperation Countries, including Qatar, are not signatories to the Rome statute.

Could any more ICC warrants be expected?

Khan said in his statement on Monday that more could follow. His office is investigating allegations of sexual violence committed by Hamas, and “the large-scale bombing that has caused and continues to cause so many civilian deaths, injuries, and suffering in Gaza.”

At least 35,000 Palestinians since Oct. 7, according to the Hamas-led Gaza health ministry, a figure that is deemed credible by both the U.N. and the U.S. government.