US lawmakers threaten sanctions if ICC issues arrest warrants against Israel officials

US lawmakers threaten sanctions if ICC issues arrest warrants against Israel officials
Members of the US Congress have threatened the ICC with sanctions if it issues arrest warrants against Netanyahu and other Israeli officials
4 min read
The International Criminal Court is expected to issue arrest warrants against senior Israeli leaders [Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images/Getty-file photo]

US lawmakers are threatening retaliation against the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it goes ahead with expected plans to issue arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials.

Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have threatened action, the Axios news website reported, adding that legislation was currently being developed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly raised the issue with US President Joe Biden in a call at the weekend, and there have been increasing fears among Israeli officials that the Hague-based ICC could soon issue warrants.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a briefing: "We've been really clear about the ICC investigation, that we don't support it, we don't believe that they have the jurisdiction."

Republican lawmaker Mike Johnson, speaker of the House of Representatives, on Monday said it was "disgraceful" the ICC was "reportedly planning to issue baseless and illegitimate arrest warrants" against Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials.

"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," he added in a statement.

A Republican politician in the House said legislation was being developed to address any warrants.

Potential sanctions

Michael McCaul, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he anticipates a bill in the House like one proposed in the Senate that would sanction ICC officials who probe American officials and allies, Axios reported.

"We hope it doesn't come to that," he said.

Pro-Israel Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres also hit out at the potential issuing of warrants.

"The ICC's abuse of power must be met with strong consequences from both Congress and the president," he said on social media platform X.

Democratic Senator John Fetterman urged Biden to intervene.

"It would be a fatal blow to the judicial and moral standing of [the] ICC to pursue this path against Israel," he said on X.

But progressive Democrats Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan did not join with calls for pressure.

"The ICC is an independent body, and it needs to proceed with what they need to do," Jayapal said.

Pocan said it was "not a matter for Congress to be telling them [the ICC] what to be doing".

Other politicians from their party who have expressed criticism of Israel said they thought that until the possible warrants are revealed it is too early to give an assessment, Axios reported.

"Why don't we see what happens, and then we can evaluate based on whatever comes out," Congressman Jim McGovern said.

Israel has been accused of war crimes and genocide by rights groups and several governments amid its indiscriminate war on the Gaza Strip, which has killed over 34,000 people and completely devastated the territory, forcing most of the population to flee to the southern city of Rafah.

Netanyahu-Biden call

Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, would not confirm a report by Axios that Netanyahu had asked Biden in their call Sunday to prevent the court from sending out warrants for Israeli officials.

"The primary focus of that call was obviously the hostage deal and getting to a ceasefire, getting humanitarian aid into Gaza," she added.

Jean-Pierre also declined to comment on reports that Washington had reached out to the ICC to warn that the issuing of any warrants could derail moves to reach a ceasefire and hostage deal between Israel and Hamas.

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The ICC has not commented on the reports. But a series of Israeli officials has in recent days said any attempt by the court to take any action against Israel would be "outrageous".

Neither the United States nor Israel is a member of the ICC.

But the ICC opened a probe in 2021 into Israel as well as Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups for possible war crimes in Palestine.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has said the investigation now extends to the Hamas-led 7 October attack on Israel as well as Israel's war on Gaza.

The ICC is the world's only independent court set up to probe the gravest offences by individual suspects, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

It has previously issued warrants for national leaders – most recently Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine.

Although the prospects of actual arrest remain slim in such cases, warrants can make it difficult for leaders to travel abroad, with all 123 ICC members technically obliged to arrest leaders indicted by ther report.