newsIsrael at War

Israel denies waging ‘secret war’ against ICC

A Guardian report accusing Israel of running a 9-year intimidation campaign against the court is "replete" with falsehoods, according to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office.

Karim Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, briefs the Security Council meeting on the secretary-general reports on Sudan on July 13, 2023. Credit: Eskinder Debebe/U.N. Photo.
Karim Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, briefs the Security Council meeting on the secretary-general reports on Sudan on July 13, 2023. Credit: Eskinder Debebe/U.N. Photo.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday dismissed a media investigation alleging that Israel had “run an almost decade-long secret ‘war'” against the International Criminal Court.

According to two articles published by Britain’s The Guardian on Tuesday, Israel spied, hacked and intimidated the ICC for the past nine years with the aim of preventing the court from opening a war crimes investigation against it.

“The questions forwarded to us are replete with many false and unfounded allegations meant to hurt the State of Israel,” the PMO told JNS.

The first article claims that Yossi Cohen, while serving as Mossad chief, threatened then-ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. The events allegedly took place in the years leading up to her February 2021 decision to investigate Israel for war crimes.

According to the Guardian, Cohen made veiled threats against Bensouda’s family. “You should help us and let us take care of you. You don’t want to be getting into things that could compromise your security or that of your family,” he allegedly told Bensouda.

The report is based on interviews with anonymous Israeli and ICC sources. One claimed Cohen was acting as an “unofficial messenger” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some of the accusations appear to be based more on innuendo than evidence, with two sources referring to “suspicions” among ICC officials that Israel had “cultivated sources” within the ICC prosecutor’s office.

“Another later recalled that although the Mossad ‘didn’t leave its signature,’ it was an assumption the agency was behind some of the activity officials had been made aware of,” The Guardian reported.

The second article accused Israel of deploying its intelligence services “to surveil, hack, pressure, smear and allegedly threaten senior ICC staff in an effort to derail the court’s inquiries.”

Israeli intelligence allegedly intercepted ICC officials’ communications, including the “phone calls, messages, emails and documents” of numerous ICC officials, including those of Bensouda and current ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, the report stated.

The surveillance has been ongoing in recent months, the report claimed, adding that Netanyahu was “obsessed” with the Israeli intercepts.

According to the Guardian the intercepts were collected by the Israel Security Agency, Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate and Unit 8200, the army’s signals intelligence unit.

The Israeli military flatly denied the accusations, telling JNS that “the IDF did not and does not conduct surveillance or other intelligence operations against the ICC.”

The Guardian report was part of an investigation conducted in cooperation with Israeli-Arab publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew language news site Local Call.

The report suggests that Israel’s alleged efforts to derail the ICC were what Khan was referring to when, during his May 20 announcement that he would seek arrest warrants against Israeli leaders, he said, “I insist that all attempts to impede, intimidate or improperly influence the officials of this court must cease immediately.”

He also referred to a clause in the court’s treaty that makes any such interference a criminal offense, warning that if it continued, “My office will not hesitate to act.”

While the Guardian accuses Israel of resorting to mob-like behavior, Avi Bell, a law professor at the University of San Diego and at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, told JNS that it’s Khan who is “acting like a mafia boss.”

“He said that somebody who threatens our work should understand that we have authority under Article 70 of the Rome Statute to arrest you. I think that in itself is a crime,” said Bell.

“He is trying to influence the decisions of leaders in democratic countries with threats of false imprisonment. That in itself is worthy of a criminal indictment,” he stressed, noting that this kind of extortion is a criminal offense in both the United States and Israel.

“That’s very, very serious business. So I think that there is room for sanctions against the ICC prosecutor,” he added.

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