ICC must investigate British ministers for complicity in Gaza war crimes

Now the International Criminal Court is seeking to issue an arrest warrant for Benjamin Netanyahu, it must investigate his accomplices in the British government.

20 May 2024
Karim Khan (centre) announces ICC arrest warrant against Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Screengrab / ICC)

Karim Khan (centre) announces ICC arrest warrant against Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Screengrab / ICC)

  • Seven British ministers –  including Rishi Sunak, David Cameron, Grant Shapps and Kemi Badenoch – must be investigated for aiding Israel

With the ICC’s chief prosecutor issuing an application for an arrest warrant against Israel’s prime minister for “war crimes and crimes against humanity”, attention must turn to those who have aided Israel.

British ministers have for months been materially assisting Israel during its onslaught against Palestinians in Gaza. This support is being provided in three main ways.

First, the UK is providing arms to Israel. Recently filed court documents reveal that, as of January this year, the UK government had 28 extant and 28 pending “high-risk” licences with Israel marked as “most likely to be used by the IDF in offensive operations in Gaza”.

On 18 January, Israeli forces bombed a residential compound in Gaza housing the emergency medical team of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a British charity. Four British doctors were injured in the airstrike, alongside MAP staff members and a bodyguard. 

The attack was carried out by an F-16 jet, components for which have been supplied by UK companies.

But the UK continues to arm Israel, rejecting repeated calls by campaign groups, former supreme court judges and some MPs to halt them. 


U.K. is training Israeli military in Britain


Second, the UK military is training Israeli armed forces personnel in Britain during the genocide. 

The government has admitted that “there are currently six Israeli Armed Forces officers posted in the UK”. It says “Israel is represented by Armed Forces personnel in its Embassy in the UK, and as participants in UK defence-led training courses”.

Third, the UK military is conducting spy flights over Gaza in support of Israel. Declassified has found that over 200 surveillance missions over Gaza have been undertaken by the Royal Air Force, which is likely to have gathered around 1,000 hours of surveillance footage.

None of this spy activity is being used to halt Israel’s attacks on Palestinians. The UK government says these surveillance activities are solely to aid the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Although the ICC has also indicted Hamas’ leadership for hostage taking, there is little evidence that Britain’s surveillance of Gaza has helped save lives. Rather it encourages Netanyahu to continue a military campaign and avoid negotiating a ceasefire, a path many of the hostages’ families favour. 


Revealed: UK military has flown 200 spy missions over Gaza...


Secrecy to avoid prosecution

British ministers are refusing to provide detailed information about these three areas of activity to parliament, likely to avoid prosecution for complicity in war crimes. 

The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) is, for example, refusing to give parliament further information about its training of Israeli military personnel in Britain or a military agreement signed with Israel in 2020.

The UK government is also refusing to give any details about the spy flights over Gaza, which began on 3 December.

Court documents show UK ministers decided to continue arms exports to Israel on 8 April, one week after the strike that killed three British aid workers who were employed by the charity World Central Kitchen.

Also on 8 April, the UK began its latest round of negotiations with Israeli ministers to strike a new trade agreement. Rather than sanctioning Israel over its actions in Gaza, the UK is deepening commercial relations.

Legitimacy of investigation

The ICC has legitimacy in investigating British ministers since they are shielded legally and politically at the domestic level. 

There is almost no chance the UK system will hold ministers accountable for aiding war crimes, particularly since they are protected by “crown immunity”. 

This deems that ministers cannot commit a legal wrong and do not act as persons but as agents steeped with Crown authority, and are therefore untouchable under the law.

The very purpose of the ICC is to investigate and prosecute the commission, including aiding and abetting, of the most serious crimes when domestic authorities refuse to act. 


Did Israel bomb British doctors with UK-supplied weaponry?


They don’t care

The international Genocide Convention requires all states to prevent and punish genocide.

The principle of the Responsibility to Protect, adopted by all states in 2005, highlights the responsibility of states to prevent “atrocity crimes” such as war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

UK ministers are not only failing to uphold these norms: they are actively supporting those Israeli decision-makers violating them.

British ministers have consistently defended Israel’s attacks on Palestinians as the death toll has mounted to the tens of thousands. They explicitly reject South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

Evidence suggests UK ministers just don’t care about international law or how many people – Palestinians or Britons – are killed in Gaza.

At the same time, the British government is refusing to publish the legal advice it has received on whether Israel is violating international law in Gaza.

Ministers responsible

Arrest warrants have been issued by the ICC against Netanyahu and his defence minister Yoav Gallant. 

Its chief prosecutor, the British barrister Karim Khan, says he has “reasonable grounds to believe” that the two Israeli ministers “bear criminal responsibility” for crimes including “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”, “intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population” and “extermination and/or murder”. 

Rishi Sunak as prime minister, along with foreign secretary David Cameron, defence secretary Grant Shapps and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch – who all approve UK arms exports to Israel – must be investigated over their complicity in war crimes.

Deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell, who has acted as the government’s chief apologist for Israel’s actions in the British parliament, should also not escape the ICC’s attention.

Nor should defence minister Leo Doherty and former foreign secretary James Cleverly (now home secretary), who contributed to UK government decisions on policy towards Israel.