Israeli intel said to have tapped ICC’s communications for years to hinder its probe

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan at the Cour d'Honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris on February 7, 2024. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP)
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan at the Cour d'Honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris on February 7, 2024. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP)

Israel has allegedly led an almost decade-long “war” against the International Criminal Court’s intention to issue arrest warrants against its leaders, dedicating immense intelligence and diplomatic efforts to finding out the court’s plans and attempting to thwart them via multiple channels and tactics, The Guardian reports.

The British outlet — in cooperation with Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew-language outlet Local Call — published some of the alleged details in a separate story early today, asserting that former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen had engaged in “threats and intimidation” in an attempt to stop former ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda from opening a war crimes investigation into Israel.

In a follow-up story, The Guardian claims that was just one element in a nine-year attempt to dissuade Bensouda and her successor Karim Khan from prosecuting Israeli leaders, which began in 2015 and was still being waged as recently as last month.

Citing “more than two dozen current and former Israeli intelligence officers and government officials, senior ICC figures, diplomats and lawyers” familiar with the matter, the report says that alongside the Mossad spy agency, the intelligence-gathering efforts included the Shin Bet security service, the Israel Defense Forces’s Military Intelligence Directorate and its signal intelligence branch, Unit 8200.

One of the missions was allegedly to find out which specific cases could form part of a future ICC investigation, in order to preemptively open Israeli probes into them and thus be able to claim there is no ground for The Hague to also investigate them due to a principle known as complementarity.

The report says that when Khan became prosecutor in 2021, Israel was initially optimistic as the Israeli-Palestinian probe appeared to have been put on the back burner, but that this changed when Khan’s tone on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war changed drastically in February of this year.

Intelligence agencies reportedly renewed their efforts to intercept material related to the ICC’s probe, and last month, tapped into a call between two Palestinian politicians in which one said Khan had indicated a request for arrest warrants could be imminent, though the US was pressuring him against it.

One former Israeli intelligence official is quoted as alleging that the “entire military and political establishment” viewed this “as a war that had to be waged, and one that Israel needed to be defended against. It was described in military terms.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have been “obsessed” with information on the matter, which was sent by intel bodies to his national security advisers, as well to the Justice Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Strategic Affairs Ministry.

The story quotes Netanyahu’s office as commenting that the alleged details are “replete with many false and unfounded allegations meant to hurt the State of Israel.”

A spokesperson for the IDF tells the outlet: “The IDF did not and does not conduct surveillance or other intelligence operations against the ICC.”

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