Israel to Brief Hundreds of Defense Officials, Fearing They May Be Arrested After ICC Ruling

Yaniv Kubovich
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Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi at the Northern Command, in November.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi at the Northern Command, in November.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Yaniv Kubovich

Hundreds of senior Israeli security officials, past and present, are expected to be called in for briefings following a decision by the International Criminal Court in The Hague that allows investigations of alleged war crimes by Israel to proceed, fearing they may be arrested abroad.

In July, Haaretz reported that Israel had prepared a confidential list of decision makers and senior military and security officials who might be arrested abroad if the ICC authorized the investigation by the international court. Israel is keeping the list strictly confidential over concern that exposing it could put the people on the list at risk.

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Senior security officials said a number of ICC member states have agreed to give advance warning to Israel of any intent to arrest Israelis on their arrival in those countries or if a request for an arrest warrant is issued against them. At the same time, Israel might ask those on the list to refrain entirely from travelling abroad, to avoid arrest or trial.

Justice Ministry officials sought to make clear on Saturday that the ICC has not yet launched an investigation against Israel and that there is no risk to specific Israeli citizens as of result of the international court's decision. In addition, however, Justice Ministry officials were “preparing to provide full protection to any Israeli citizen whom the criminal court tries, if an investigation is subsequently launched to pursue [them] through legal pursuit.”

If an investigation is indeed launched, the ICC is expected to focus on high-ranking Israeli officials – cabinet ministers, senior army commanders and senior officials at the security agencies – and not on lower-ranking officers.

IDF tank on the Gaza border during Operation Protective Edge, 2014.Credit: Nir Elias/Reuters

Following the ICC decision, the army released a statement in which it said the Israel Defense Forces “and the chief of staff at its helm regret the decision of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The position of the State of Israel is that this is a biased, immaterial decision without authority.”

Although Israel refuses to recognize the authority of the ICC, in an effort to influence the decision, officials at the Justice Ministry and in the Military Advocate General's office have been working behind the scenes over the past two years to provide materials to the team that conducted the preliminary investigation in The Hague. But a senior official who was involved told Haaretz on Sunday that he was not surprised by the decision and that the judicial  system in Israel has prepared for it.

Contrary to the Israeli position, the international court decided that  it has jurisdiction in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to investigate whether Israel and Hamas have committed war crimes in those territories. In an opinion published in 2019, the criminal court prosecutor in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, considered  three types of possible war crimes: those allegedly committed by Israel and Hamas during the war in Gaza in 2014; those that were allegedly committed by Israel at mass demonstrations by Palestinians near the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip beginning in March 2018; and those allegedly committed by Israel through the construction of Israeli civilian settlements in the occupied territories.

The prosecutor could now announce to ICC member states and Israel that she intends to launch an investigation. At that point, Israel would have 30 days to inform the court if it intends itself to investigate citizens who allegedly committed the crimes. In that case, the prosecutor would have to receive authorization from the ICC if she wished to open an immediate investigation of her own.

Although there is no specific deadline by which Bensouda must  announce her intention to launch an investigation, her term as prosecutor ends in June of this year. The ICC is expected to announce her successor shortly. 

Nick Kaufman, who worked as a lawyer in the International Criminal Court, told Haaretz that he did not believe she would take significant steps in the case prior to the end of her term.

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