‘Complex’ genocide case against Israel ‘far from clear cut’, says Varadkar

Taoiseach expresses concern attacks on Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen could escalate into ‘severe regional conflict’

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) case accusing Israel of genocide in its war in Gaza was “far from clear cut”, despite some portraying the matter as such, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

On Friday Israel rejected the accusations in the case brought forward by South Africa to the United Nations’ court as “grossly distorted”. Israel said it has a right to defend itself following the October 7th attacks by Hamas militants, in response to allegations its subsequent bombing and ground offensive was aimed at bringing about “the destruction of the population” of Gaza.

Mr Varadkar said some people were suggesting the case against Israel was clear cut. “I think this is actually quite a complex case and there are some people making it out to be much more simple than it actually is,” he said.

“I do genuinely think we need to be careful about the use of the term genocide and accusations of genocide,” he said. “We should not forget that there are two or more parties in this conflict and I think sometimes people have a tendency to forget that,” he said.


Earlier this week, Mr Varadkar said the Government was “deeply concerned” Israel may had committed war crimes in Gaza.

Speaking on Friday, he said that the Government did not believe Israel’s response to the initial attacks by Hamas in southern Israel had been proportionate.

“It is possible that the International Court of Justice may make some orders against Israel, calling for it to desist in certain activities that might lead to genocide,” he said. “There is no mechanism by which ICJ rulings can be enforced but I think it would strengthen the case for the UN and others to take a stronger position on this,” he said.

“We’ll see how the court decides in the next couple of weeks in terms of any preliminary orders and then we’ll act at that point. We are already beginning conversations with like minded countries in the European Union about how we may act together,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he was worried about further escalation in the conflict, following US and British air strikes on Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen, in response to their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. “It is one of our greatest concerns that this could escalate into a much more severe regional conflict involving players like Iran and others,” he said.

“We are seeing terrible violence against Palestinian people being perpetrated by extremist violent settlers in the West Bank. We are seeing clashes between Israel and Hizbullah over the Lebanese border and we’re now seeing these actions taking place in the Red Sea,” he said.

Mr Varadkar was speaking in Skopje, North Macedonia, after a meeting with the country’s prime minister Dimitar Kovačevski, as part of a two-day visit to the western Balkans.

The Taoiseach said he would like to see North Macedonia and a number of other small states be accepted into the European Union within the next five years and “certainly” within the decade.

European institutions needed to do more for countries undertaking reforms in the hope of joining the bloc, he said. “I think the fact that no country has joined the European Union for more than 10 years now is causing some people to lose faith,” he said.

“I would like to see a number of countries joining the European Union in the period of the next [European] parliament and commission, I think that would send a very strong message to countries in the region,” he said.

Commenting on the current pay talks, Mr Varadkar said he was “very disappointed” the Government and public sector unions had not reached an agreement. The proposed 8.5 per cent pay rise over 2½ years had been a “good offer”, but that both sides would now need to show “some degree of flexibility” to reach a deal, he said.

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Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times