EU foreign ministers contemplate sanctions against Israel

Ireland’s Micheal Martin says measures must be taken against Israel if it doesn’t comply with international humanitarian law

EU foreign ministers have for the first time held “significant” discussions on sanctioning Israel for its failure to comply with international humanitarian law during its ongoing offensive in Gaza, Ireland’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Minister Micheal Martin said on Tuesday.

Israel has been facing mounting pressure to cease its months-long military operation in Gaza. Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) officially ordered Israel to halt its offensive in the Palestinian city of Rafah in southern Gaza, and to open the region’s borders to humanitarian aid.

However, Israel has refused to back down and on Sunday conducted an airstrike on a refugee camp in Rafah’s Tel Al-Sultan neighborhood, killing at least 45 Palestinians and injuring nearly 250, most of whom were women, children and senior citizens, according to Gaza officials.

Speaking to reporters following a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Tuesday, Martin stated that a “very clear consensus” had been reached on the fact that the rulings of international humanitarian legal institutions, such as the ICJ, must be upheld.

“For the first time at an EU meeting, in a real way, I’ve seen significant discussion on sanctions and ‘what if’,” Martin said, regarding accountability for Israel for its supposed transgressions. 

He noted, however, that there is still “some distance between people articulating the need for a sanctions-based approach if Israel does not comply with the ICJ’s ruling” and an actual agreement within the Council on such an approach.

Martin stated that one of the conclusions reached by Council was that a meeting should be convened by the EU-Israel Association Council to “raise our grave concerns and to … seek from Israel a response in terms of complying with the orders of the Court.”

Israel, meanwhile, has insisted that its weekend attack on Rafah was justified, claiming it was a “precise strike” on two senior Hamas leaders suspected of planning and carrying out “numerous attacks in which IDF soldiers were killed.”

At the same time, Israel acknowledged that the airstrike had resulted in civilian casualties and said the incident was now “under review.”

Israel declared war on Hamas on October 7, after the militant group killed around 1,200 Israelis and took another 250 to Gaza as hostages. After almost eight months of fighting, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.