Biden slams ‘outrageous’ International Criminal Court after prosecutor seeks warrant for Netanyahu


President Joe Biden on Monday denounced the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor’s decision to ask for arrest warrants against both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on Monday.

The president called the move a false equivalence equating the militant group’s terrorist tactics with Israeli self-defense.

Earlier in the day, ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan KC put out a statement calling for arrest warrants to issue for Netanyahu, Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas military chief Mohammed al-Masri and Hamas political boss Ismail Haniyeh.

Khan said the charges against the Israeli leaders include “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare … intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population … wilfully causing great suffering … persecution as a crime against humanity … [and] extermination and/or murder.”

The announcement marked the first time in the court’s history that a prosecutor has sought to make a sitting head of state and a sitting defense minister of a US-allied country subject to ICC jurisdiction.

In a statement, President Biden did not address the matter of the Hamas leaders, but called the application for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant “outrageous”.

“Let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas,” Biden said.

The American president added that the US “will always stand with Israel against threats to its security”.

Neither the US nor Israel recognise the court and have not signed on to the treaty outlining its powers and responsibilities. But if Khan is successful in obtaining warrants for Netanyahu or Gallant, it would place the two Israeli leaders in a category with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is currently subject to an ICC arrest warrant against him for ordering Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Both would be barred from travelling to any of the 124 countries that are signatories to the ICC, as authorities there would be obliged to arrest them and deliver them to The Hague for prosecuction.

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller seconded Biden’s statement during the department’s daily briefing on Monday, telling reporters that the US “fundamentally rejects the announcement today from the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that he is applying for arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials together with warrants for Hamas terrorist”.

“There should be no equivalence between Israel and Hamas ... Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, and it's still holding dozens of innocent people hostage, including Americans,” he said.

Miller added that in the view of the United States government, the ICC “has no jurisdiction over this matter” because the court “was established by its state parties as a court of limited jurisdiction”.

“These limits are rooted in principles of complementarity, which do not appear to have been applied here amid the prosecutor’s rush to seek these arrest warrants rather than allowing the Israeli legal system a full and timely opportunity for to proceed,” he said.

“In other situations, the prosecutor deferred to national investigations and worked with states to allow them time to investigate. The prosecutor did not afford the same opportunity to Israel in this case, which has ongoing investigations into allegations against its personnel.”