Netanyahu contemplating layover in Europe amid fears of arrest warrant over Gaza war

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is mulling a layover in Europe during his trip to Washington later this month, despite concerns over an arrest warrant application from the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the Gaza war, according to local media.

Kan News reported on Wednesday that the prime minister’s plane, dubbed the “Wing of Zion”, may be unable to fly directly to the US due to a lack of preparedness.

Netanyahu’s office has been evaluating the feasibility of such a layover in Europe, given that the ICC is seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

Gallant and Netanyahu face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the starvation of civilians in Gaza as a method of war, wilfully causing great suffering, wilful killing, intentional attacks on a civilian population and extermination, among other charges.

No warrants have been issued yet. The ICC prosecution has submitted an application, which is currently under consideration by ICC judges in the pre-trial chamber.

The prosecutor also seeks the arrest of Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, its military wing’s commander-in-chief Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, better known as Mohammed Deif, and its political leader Ismail Haniyeh.

The ICC has jurisdiction over nationals of its 124 member states and crimes committed within their territories. It also has jurisdiction over cases referred to by a UN Security Council resolution.

Israel is not a member of the ICC. However, the state of Palestine was granted membership in 2015. The court can, therefore, investigate Israeli individuals for crimes committed in occupied Palestine, including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Although the US is not a member of the court, the UK, France and several of Israel’s western allies are ICC members.

Should the pre-trial chamber approve the arrest warrant, ICC member states, as signatories of the Rome Statute, would be obliged to arrest the indicted individuals.

“Member states have a legal obligation to cooperate fully with the court, which includes arresting those subject to an arrest warrant,” Eitan Diamond of the Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Centre in Jerusalem told MEE in May.

“Israel and the Israeli officials concerned would not want to take the risk that states would discharge their obligation.”

As the arrest warrant has not yet been approved, the legality of Netanyahu’s travel to and from member states remains unclear.

Historically, the ICC pre-trial judges have approved the prosecutor’s applications in nearly all previous cases of arrest warrants.

Travel restrictions are a reality that Russian President Vladimir Putin has faced since he and another senior official were indicted by the ICC in March last year for their roles in Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

In December, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva suggested that Putin could face arrest if he attended the G20 summit in Rio later this year.

Member states have previously flouted that obligation: South Africa and Jordan failed to arrest indicted former Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir during visits to their respective countries, drawing criticism from human rights groups and the ICC itself.

The Guardian reported on Monday that the new Labour government is expected to drop a UK attempt to delay the ICC’s decision on Netanyahu’s arrest warrant.

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