Israel is preparing a secret list of hundreds of its officials who are liable to be tried in The Hague on war crimes charges, it has been revealed. The government is warning them not to travel in case they are arrested.
According to Haaretz, the list has the names of between 200 and 300 military and intelligence officials who could be arrested and put on trial for war crimes committed against civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The report comes amid news of the International Criminal Court (ICC) possibly opening an investigation into war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas, starting from the Israeli military offensive on Gaza in 2014, known as "Operation Protective Edge". The request for the trial was made by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
The list was supposed to be kept secret due to the danger it could pose to the officials whose names it contains. It could also be viewed by the ICC as an admission of guilt. Those on the list include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former Defence Ministers Moshe Ya'alon, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett; former Chiefs of Staff Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, and current Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, as well as the former and current heads of the Shin Bet intelligence agency, Yoram Cohen and Nadav Argaman respectively.
It is suspected that the remainder could be more junior officers and officials, including those who approved the building of Jewish-only settlements within the occupied West Bank. Such settlements are illegal under international law and are one of the subjects of the ICC investigation.
The future of the investigation is to be decided by Judges Peter Kovacs of Hungary, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of France and Reine Adelaide Sophie Alapini-Gansou of Benin. It will also depend on whether the court has jurisdiction over the areas where the war crimes were committed, which include the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Israel insists that the ICC has no such authority or jurisdiction in those areas, as the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not a sovereign state.
This has led many observers to predict that Israel will refuse to cooperate with the ICC, which could result in the court ordering secret detention orders and warrants against the Israeli officials. This would limit their ability to travel and keep Israel unaware of the court proceedings.
If an investigation into alleged war crimes is opened, Israel's illegal annexation plans for the West Bank could also have a serious impact on any defence that it might mount. Bensouda has included this factor in her preliminary investigation.
The threat of an ICC investigation into Israel's and America's alleged war crimes has been criticised by both countries. US President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the court last month, a move praised by Israel. Nevertheless, the ICC has received further complaints about alleged Israeli and US war crimes over the past month, strengthening the case for a formal investigation.