By Yonah Jeremy Bob, JPost—
Defense Minister and Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz alarmed government officials on Tuesday when he told Reuters Israel estimates that hundreds of its citizens might be subject – in the near future – to war crimes probes by the International Criminal Court.
Gantz, who took over the Justice Ministry when the Knesset dissolved in late December, told Reuters that Israel is hard at work protecting those Israelis.
Including himself among those who could be threatened with arrest, Gantz said: “I was never afraid to go across enemy lines. I will continue to stand wherever I have to.”
In an interview near Israel’s border with Gaza, Gantz called the ruling a “negative development” and added: “We have our own teams working in different (places) to try (and) influence (the ICC).”
Gantz’s comments flatly contradicted statements by Israeli government officials in early February when Israel’s confrontation with the ICC moved into high gear.
Asked by Reuters how many Israelis might expect to be subject to arrest should the probe lead to criminal investigations, Gantz said: “I guess several hundred, but we will take care of everybody.”
Gantz called that “an estimate,” declining to say that Israel had drawn up a list of officials likely to be investigated. Israel will provide legal assistance to any targeted Israelis and will give them advice regarding travel abroad if necessary, Gantz said.
Asked if he might change his own travel plans in light of the ICC probe, Gantz said: “So far, no.”
Gantz successfully fought off a previous war crimes probe in the Dutch national courts.
Although Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry have worked for two decades to protect Israeli officials from prosecution overseas after various past military operations, all government authorities have said that the possibility of arrest by the ICC is remote.
Further, they emphasize that if it became a realistic danger, it would likely be years away, or in the worst case maybe several months away.