Creating new perspectives since 2009

Israel's decade-long secret ‘war’ against ICC exposed

May 29, 2024 at 1:55 pm

A general view of the International Criminal Court (ICC) building in The Hague, Netherlands on April 30, 2024. [Selman Aksünger – Anadolu Agency]

Further details of Israel’s near decade-long secret “war” against the International Criminal Court (ICC) have been revealed today by the Guardian. The newspaper has exposed the spying, hacking, threats, intimidation and blackmail to which the apartheid state has resorted when applying pressure on ICC prosecutors.

The Guardian conducted the investigation with the Israeli-based magazines +972 and Local Call. Part one of the expose revealed the shocking details of Israel’s Mossad chief threatening former ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her family in a covert intimidation campaign.

The joint investigation draws on interviews with more than two dozen current and former Israeli intelligence officers and government officials, senior ICC figures, diplomats and lawyers familiar with the ICC case and Israel’s efforts to undermine it.

Israel is said to have felt the need to wage a “war” against the ICC and spoke of it in military terms. This commenced in January 2015 when Palestine joined the court. One former Israeli intelligence official said that this led the “entire military and political establishment” to regard the counteroffensive against the ICC “as a war that had to be waged, and one that Israel needed to be defended against.”

READ: European Commission president accused of complicity in Israel’s war crimes at ICC

Israel deployed its intelligence agencies to monitor, hack, pressure and allegedly threaten senior ICC staff in an effort to derail the court’s inquiries. The Israeli prime minister’s national security council (NSC) mobilised a response involving its intelligence agencies, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some of the generals and spy chiefs who authorised the operation having a personal stake in its outcome.

The settler-colonial state had added motivation to target the ICC as senior security officers expressed concerns about being deployed to the West Bank, fearing prosecution by the court. Multiple Israeli sources said the leadership of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) wanted military intelligence to join the effort to ensure senior officers could be protected from charges. “We were told that senior officers are afraid to accept positions in the West Bank because they are afraid of being prosecuted in The Hague,” one source is reported as saying.

As part of this “war”, Israel hacked emails and monitored the calls of ICC officials, resorting to threats and blackmail. “Five sources familiar with Israel’s intelligence activities said it routinely spied on the phone calls with Palestinians made by Bensouda and her staff. Thanks to their comprehensive access to Palestinian telecoms infrastructure, the sources said, intelligence operatives could capture the calls without installing spyware on the ICC officials’ devices,” the Guardian explained.

Keeping tabs on Palestinian submissions to the ICC’s inquiry was viewed as part of the Shin Bet’s mandate, and Israel’s designation of Palestinian groups like Al-Haq as “terrorist” organisations was linked to their cooperation with the ICC. According to multiple current and former intelligence officials, military cyber-offensive teams and the Shin Bet security agency all systematically monitored the employees of Palestinian NGOs and the Palestinian Authority who were engaging with the ICC.

In its attempt to pressure the court against taking up the Palestine file, Israel maintained a back channel with the ICC prosecutor’s office between 2017 and 2019, consisting of a delegation of top government lawyers and diplomats who travelled to The Hague. The meetings were authorised by Netanyahu and provided Israel with an advantage due to the surveillance of the ICC and Palestinians making the case for prosecutions against Israelis.

However, in December 2019, Bensouda announced that she believed there was a “reasonable basis” to conclude that Israel committed war crimes in the occupied territories. This setback led to Israel ramping up its campaign against the ICC, with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen intensifying his efforts to persuade Bensouda not to proceed with the investigation through personal threats and a “smear campaign” relating to her family. Details of the threat including against the family of the former chief prosecutor are provided in part one of the investigation report.

Israel turned to the US for help in March 2020. Israeli government officials reportedly held discussions in Washington with senior US officials about “a joint Israeli-American struggle” against the ICC. The Trump administration engaged in its own aggressive campaign against the court, culminating in the imposition of US economic sanctions on Bensouda and one of her top officials.

When Karim Khan took over as ICC prosecutor in June 2021, Israeli intelligence intercepted communications suggesting that he was contemplating arrest warrants against Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials. Despite pressure and intimidation from Israel and the US, Khan pressed ahead, and announced last week that he was seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three Hamas leaders, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The ICC, meanwhile, has strengthened its security with regular sweeps of the prosecutor’s offices, security checks on devices, phone-free areas, weekly threat assessments, and the introduction of specialist equipment. An ICC spokesperson said that Khan’s office had been subjected to “several forms of threats and communications that could be viewed as attempts to unduly influence its activities.”

READ: Israel sends tanks into Rafah on raids amid Gaza-wide offensive