Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu slams ICC prosecutor seeking his arrest on war crimes charges

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) reacted with fury Monday to an application by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor for warrants to arrest him and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged war crimes in Gaza. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI

May 21 (UPI) -- Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted with fury to a request by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor for warrants to arrest him and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged war crimes in Gaza.

Calling the bid by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan to seek arrest warrants for elected Israeli leaders "a moral outrage of historic proportions," a defiant Netanyahu used a video address streamed in English on Monday night to heap criticism on the court in the Hague.

Hitting back at Khan's "absurd charges", which he said were nothing more than a "farcical" effort to deny Israel the basic right of self-defense that was destined to fail, he warned his incendiary actions were "callously pouring gasoline on the fires of anti-Semitism that are raging across the world."

Stressing that the ICC had no jurisdiction over Israel, Netanyahu vowed no external pressure could deter him from prosecuting "our just war," saying Israel would fight on until it achieved the total defeat of Hamas.

"Israel is waging a just war against Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organization that perpetrated the worst attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Hamas massacred 1,200 Jews, raped Jewish women, burned Jewish babies, took hundreds hostage," said Netanyahu.

"Now, in the face of these horrors, Mr. Khan creates a twisted and false moral equivalence between the leaders of Israel and the henchmen of Hamas. This is like creating a moral equivalence after September 11th between President Bush and Osama Bin Laden, or during World War II between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Hitler."

Netanyahu went on to accuse Khan of abusing his power with a dangerous precedent that undermined every democracy's right to defend itself against terrorist aggression.

Yoav Gallant took to social media to react with a defiant post on X, reiterating the belief that the application would not succeed.

"The IDF fights in accordance with the rules of international law, taking unique humanitarian efforts the likes of which have not been taken in any armed conflict," he said, adding that Khan's "parallel between the terrorist organization of Hamas and the State of Israel is despicable and disgusting."

Khan on Monday simultaneously applied for warrants against Yahya Siwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, commander of Hamas's military wing and Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas's political bureau.

International reaction has largely been split between countries that are signatories to the ICC and those outside its jurisdiction such as the United States.

France, Belgium and Australia backed the move with the French Foreign Ministry saying it supported the independence of the court and the "fight against impunity in all situations."

"France has been warning for many months about the imperative of strict compliance with international humanitarian law and in particular about the unacceptable nature of civilian losses in the Gaza Strip and insufficient humanitarian access," the ministry said in a news release.

However, the statement began by noting Khan was also seeking the arrest of three Hamas leaders for crimes against humanity, "anti-Semitic massacres perpetrated by Hamas on October 7" that France roundly condemned.

"This terrorist group conducted barbaric attacks directed against civilians, accompanied by acts of torture and sexual violence as documented by themselves, and including spreading them and celebrating these crimes."

In a post on X, Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said: "Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators."

Britain, however, criticized the step as unhelpful in resolving the conflict.

"This action does nothing to help reach a pause in the fighting, get hostages out or get humanitarian aid in and make progress towards a sustainable ceasefire that we want to see," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

Germany said it supported the court but criticized the "false moral equation" it said was implied by applying for arrest warrants for Hamas leaders and senior Israeli politicians simultaneously and defended Israel's right to defend itself.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday unequivocally sided with Israel saying Khan's action wrongly suggested that Israel and Hamas were equally to blame for the conflict when Israel was, in fact, defending its sovereignty.

"The ICC prosecutor's application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous," Biden said in a statement.

"Let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalency -- none -- between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security."