Ronen Zvulun/Reuters/File
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a conference in Jerusalem on February 18.
CNN  — 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will defend itself even if “forced to stand alone,” defying international pressure for Israel’s military to limit its campaign in Gaza ahead of its expected incursion into Rafah.

“Even if Israel is forced to stand alone, we will stand alone, and we will continue to strike our enemies powerfully until victory. Even if we have to stand alone, we will continue to fight human evil,” Netanyahu said in a fiery speech Sunday at the opening ceremony of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Netanyahu’s comments came shortly before Israel on Monday ordered Palestinians in parts of Rafah to evacuate, after the country’s defense minister told troops in Gaza to expect “intense action” in the city “in the near future.” More than 1 million Palestinians have been displaced to Rafah, where Hamas is believed to have regrouped after Israel’s destruction of most of the north of the strip.

While negotiators in Egypt struggle to strike a ceasefire-for-hostages deal between Israel and Hamas – which could see as many as 33 Israeli hostages released in exchange for a pause in the fighting that has raged for nearly seven months – Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure from the extreme wing of his coalition to prioritize entering Rafah to attempt to destroy Hamas.

Netanyahu also warned the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague against issuing arrest warrants for Israeli leaders and commanders after its investigation into the war in Gaza. Israeli media has reported that several government officials, including Netanyahu, are concerned that such arrest warrants are imminent.

Issuing arrest warrants for Israeli officials would leave an “indelible stain” on the edifice of international law and justice, Netanyahu said. He stressed that the ICC was “founded as a consequence of the Holocaust” and should not attempt to “undermine” Israel’s fundamental right to self-defense.

Netanyahu’s comments may represent Israel’s growing isolation, as some of its closest allies have attempted to dissuade him from launching an incursion into Rafah.

In a phone call late last month, United States President Joe Biden reiterated to Netanyahu his “clear position” on a potential Israeli invasion of Rafah, according to a White House readout. The Biden administration has made clear to its Israeli counterparts that it wants to see a clear and actionable plan on how they would protect civilians in Rafah.

Asked by CNN for comment earlier this week on the possibility of arrest warrants being issued, the ICC said it “does not give a running commentary in relation to ongoing investigations, nor does (it) respond to speculation in media reports. Accordingly, we have no further comment to make at this stage.”

In a post on X in February, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said his office has “an ongoing and active investigation into the situation in the State of Palestine,” adding that his office was “actively investigating any crimes allegedly committed. Those who are in breach of the law will be held accountable.”

Israel is not a member of the ICC and rejects the court’s jurisdiction. That has not previously stopped the court from investigating its actions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Fatou Bensouda, a former ICC prosecutor, spent five years conducting a “painstaking preliminary examination” in which she concluded she was “satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.” But no arrests were made, and Bensouda left office in 2021.

Since the Hamas terror attack on Israel on October 7 that left 1,200 people dead and some 250 taken hostage, both Hamas and Israel have been accused of war crimes. Since Israel launched its devastating military response to that attack, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza.