Israel reacts with fury as ICC prosecutor seeks Netanyahu arrest warrant

By Rami Amichay

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel reacted with fury on Monday to the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister for alleged war crimes in Gaza .

The prosecutor’s office said it was also seeking arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders, including Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement in Gaza and one of the architects of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

This announcement aroused the anger of Israelis, outraged by the parallel established between the Prime Minister and the leaders of Hamas. Even Netanyahu’s political enemies have rallied behind him.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid called the decision a “disaster.” Benny Gantz, a centrist former army general who joined Netanyahu’s war unity government last year but is the leading candidate for prime minister, called it a “crime of historic proportions.”

In Tel Aviv, a liberal city that last year saw some of the largest street protests in Israeli history against Netanyahu’s plans to curb the powers of the judiciary, people expressed outrage.

“Sinwar is a terrorist leader. Putting all three of them together is absolutely absurd, there is no common thread between them,” said Barak Rabinowitz, a 45-year-old venture capital executive.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has seen his popularity plummet since the start of the Gaza war, with many Israelis blaming him for the security failures that allowed Hamas to run amok, and accusing him of not not doing enough to bring home approximately 130 Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

But for some Israelis, the possibility of arrest warrants being issued for the prime minister was seen as an attack on the entire country and symptomatic of the growing hostility Israel faces internationally.

“I think it’s a shame,” said Oron Uri, a 59-year-old advertising and marketing executive from Tel Aviv. This decision was not just against Netanyahu and (Defense Minister Yoav) Gallant, but against the entire country. “It’s against us, the Israelis,” he said.

“They come and issue arrest warrants against Israelis, not just against our government, our prime minister or our defense minister,” he said.

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The long-term political impact of the decision on Netanyahu, whose coalition has been shaken by deep internal divisions, remains unclear, but the shock of the news has brought him at least a temporary respite from his domestic problems.

On Saturday, Gantz issued an explicit challenge to Netanyahu, demanding that he develop a clear “day after” strategy for the Gaza campaign, but he backed the prime minister following The Hague’s announcement.

He said that “drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself against despicable terrorism and the leaders of a bloodthirsty terrorist organization is a profound distortion of justice and a blatant moral bankruptcy.”

Israel’s campaign in Gaza has so far killed more than 35,000 Palestinians and destroyed much of the enclave, displacing most of the population, which aid groups say now faces a grave humanitarian crisis.

Protests in cities and college campuses in the United States and many other Western countries have underscored growing global outrage over the issue and even President Joe Biden, Israel’s closest ally, has spoken out. increasingly distant from Netanyahu’s government.

But in Israel, still marked by the memory of October 7, when some 1,200 people were killed by Hamas-led gunmen, who also captured some 250 hostages in the deadliest day in the history of the country, the perspective was different.

“Any attempt to draw a parallel between these atrocious terrorists and a democratically elected government of Israel – striving to fulfill its duty to defend and protect its citizens in full respect of the principles of international law – is scandalous and cannot be be accepted by anyone,” the president said. Isaac Herzog said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Ros Russell)