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Key Netanyahu Ally Engaged in Nearly Decade-Long “War” Against ICC — Report

Threats against the former lead prosecutor of the ICC included targeted statements involving her family.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Yossi Cohen on December 7, 2015.

The former head of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, used his office to engage in a nearly decade-long “war” against the International Criminal Court (ICC), seeking to undermine that body’s legitimacy on the world stage as it investigated Israel’s criminal actions against Palestinians.

According to reporting from The Guardian, Yossi Cohen, an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who used to head the Mossad, made several threats to Fatou Bensouda, the former prosecutor of the ICC, as she was inquiring into Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank. Bensouda’s investigation formally began in 2021 and led to her successor, Karim Khan, announcing earlier this month that he would be pursuing an arrest warrant against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes and crimes against humanity. As reported by The Guardian, Israel’s espionage campaign against the ICC began in 2015, after the court admitted Palestine, a move that an Israeli official characterized as “diplomatic terrorism.” Mossad reportedly first targeted Bensouda in February 2015, after the court opened a preliminary examination into “the situation in Palestine.”

Cohen’s actions took place while he headed the Mossad and was authorized by “high level” authorities in Israel’s government, according to a source with knowledge of his actions. A separate source suggested that Cohen was acting as Netanyahu’s “unofficial messenger.”

Cohen’s actions were of a threatening nature, The Guardian reported, and included threats to Bensouda’s family members, as well as secretly recording their conversations, which he sought to use against her in order to discredit the ICC’s actions.

“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,” Cohen allegedly told Bensouda, according to an ICC-related source with knowledge of what he said.

Cohen also harassed Bensouda over the phone, calling her repeatedly in attempts to influence her to drop her investigation. When Bensouda asked Cohen how he obtained her phone number, he replied: “Did you forget what I do for a living?”

Cohen also surprised Bensouda by meeting with her, unannounced, in person at several points in the past decade, The Guardian reported, including “ambushing” her while she was staying at a hotel in New York, abruptly interrupting a meeting she had with a foreign leader — unbeknownst to Bensouda, an ally of Cohen’s.

Although Israel doesn’t recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction and the country is not a member state of the international body, Khan announced last week that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that Israel’s leaders were criminally responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to their war on Palestinians in Gaza, in which Israel has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and displaced nearly a million in this month alone. In addition to the ICC prosecutor’s actions seeking a warrant to arrest Israeli leaders, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which Israel does recognize, is considering charging the country’s leaders with genocide.

Allies of Israel, including the United States, are believed to be shielding Israel’s leaders behind the scenes from facing consequences from either of the two international bodies. Publicly, U.S. leaders, including President Joe Biden, have blasted the organizations for their attempts to hold Israel accountable for its bloody siege of Gaza, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also suggested that the administration would support congressional action to punish the two international bodies.

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