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Israel’s Sordid History of Attempted Blackmail and Threats of ICC Prosecutor

Applying blackmail and political muscle to corrupt the International Criminal Court is not a sport invented this year. The London Guardian and Israeli magazine +972 collaborated on research and published separately the story of Israeli spy chief Yossi Cohen and his nine-year targeting of the former ICC Prosecutor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda. The application made last week by current ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan for an arrest warrant against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was the fruit of the investigation launched by his predecessor, Bensouda, in March 2021, for crimes committed by Israel and Hamas from June 13, 2014 onwards.

Bensouda, from Ghana, began her preliminary investigations in 2015, and Cohen began his overt muscling operations in 2018. He is described as having “ambushed” her in a New York City hotel, intruding upon and taking over what was apparently a phony, set-up meeting with an African head of state. Afterwards Cohen allegedly phoned repeatedly and sought more meetings. Once, when Bensouda asked how he had gotten her phone number, he said: “Did you forget what I do for a living?”

Cohen also played the ‘good cop,’ apparently trying to enlist her in a cooperative relationship with Israel. But when that didn’t pan out, “threats and manipulation” prevailed, leading to Bensouda in 2019 informing some senior ICC officials, as confirmed by four different sources. After she announced in December 2019 that her investigation had shown she had grounds to open a full criminal investigation of war crimes, Cohen seemed to intensify his pressure.

Cohen allegedly told Bensouda: “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.” Further, the Mossad allegedly obtained transcripts of secret recordings of her husband. On one occasion, Cohen is said to have shown Bensouda copies of photographs of her husband, which were taken covertly when the couple were visiting London.

The Guardian reported that Cohen was close to Netanyahu, that his activities were “authorized at a high level,” and that, according an Israeli source, his mission was to “compromise the prosecutor or enlist her as someone who would cooperate with Israel’s demands.” Contacted by the Guardian, a spokesperson for Israel’s Prime Minister’s office said: “The questions forwarded to us are replete with many false and unfounded allegations meant to hurt the state of Israel.” Cohen did not respond to a request for comment.

To add insult to injury, the Trump administration imposed unprecedented visa restrictions and sanctions on Bensouda in 2019-20, ostensibly to back her away from an investigation of war crimes in Afghanistan. However, Mike Pompeo, then US Secretary of State, explained that her ICC was “putting Israel in [its] crosshairs for nakedly political purposes.”

Last week’s request for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant by Bensouda’s successor, Karim Khan, marks the first time the Court has taken action against leaders of a country closely allied with the US and Europe.