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Germany would 'of course' ICC follow arrest warrants and detain Netanyahu, spokesman says

German opposition leader slams comments, calls them 'a scandal'

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz walks past government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit before the start of the Federal Cabinet meeting in the Federal Chancellery, Feb. 21, 2024 (Photo: DPA / Picture Alliance)

Germany's government spokesperson, Steffen Hebestreit, stated that Germany would “of course” arrest Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant if the International Criminal Court (ICC) were to issue warrants for their arrest.

The ICC's chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, announced on Monday that he is seeking warrants for three Hamas leaders, as well as Israeli leaders Netanyahu and Gallant, in effect, drawing equivalence between them.

Following Khan’s announcement, Hebestreit was asked in a press conference if the German government would adhere to the ICC’s decision and implement it.

“The way you put it so beautifully, this is a hypothetical question, so I’ll take half a step back and say: In principle, we are supporters of the ICC and it will stay that way.”

After the journalist repeated his question, Hebestreit reiterated: “I thought I had answered the question through my normative statement, otherwise, if you still have questions: Of course… We abide by the law and the law.”

Hebestreit’s comments were strongly condemned by Friedrich Merz, the leader of Germany’s opposition and chairman of the center-right Christian Democratic Union Party.

“The application for an arrest warrant against Prime Minister Netanyahu and Hamas leader Sinwar at the same time is already an absurd perpetrator-victim reversal. But the government spokesman’s suggestion that Netanyahu could be arrested on German soil is now really becoming a scandal,” Merz told the Bild-Zeitung tabloid.

“What is the much-vaunted solidarity with Israel actually worth if the German government spokesman allows himself to be carried away with such statements? And is that also the Chancellor’s opinion?”

On Monday, the German Foreign Ministry issued a tepid statement that did not echo the strong condemnations from the United States and other nations. Instead, it noted that the ICC’s “pre-trial chamber now has to decide on the chief prosecutor’s applications for the issuance of arrest warrants.” The statement also expressed concern about the “false impression of an equation” between Hamas and Israel.

Soon after the ICC’s declaration, Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor noted that it would put Germany’s “Staatsräson” to the test. The term was popularized by former Chancellor Angela Merkel, who used it to assert that Israel's existence is integral to Germany's "Staatsräson," or central purpose.

“The Chief Prosecutor equates a democratic government with Hamas, thereby demonizing and delegitimizing Israel and the Jewish people,” Prosor wrote on 𝕏.

“He has completely lost his moral compass. Germany has a responsibility to readjust this compass. This disgraceful political campaign could become a nail in the coffin for the West and its institutions. Do not let it come to that!” he added.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide previously stated that if arrest warrants were issued, his country would indeed arrest Netanyahu and Gallant.

“If they or any Hamas leaders arrive in Norway, according to international law, we are obligated to arrest them. The same principle applies to all European countries, except Turkey,” the foreign minister said on Norwegian TV 2.

Israeli Members of Knesset (MKs) from across the political spectrum, including most of the opposition, sharply condemned the request for arrest warrants.

“We reject it with disgust,” declared 106 of Israel’s 120 MKs in a statement supported by all parties except the Israeli government's Arab parties – Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am – and the Labor party.

While speaking to ABC News on Tuesday, Netanyahu accused Khan of turning the ICC into a “kangaroo court,” noting that he should be worried about his international legitimacy in the future.

The prosecutor was “out to demonize Israel,” and carrying out “a hit job,” Netanyahu added.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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