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Israeli spy chief threatened ICC prosecutor investigating crimes against humanity in occupied Palestinian territories: Report

In an investigative report published on Tuesday, The Guardian revealed that Yossi Cohen, the then director of the Mossad, unsuccessfully attempted 'to compromise the ICC's chief prosecutor or enlist her as someone who would cooperate with Israel’s demands.'
Last Updated : 30 May 2024, 11:27 IST
Last Updated : 30 May 2024, 11:27 IST

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With International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan seeking arrest warrants earlier this month for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as top Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohamed Deif based on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Gaza Strip, a new investigative report published in The Guardian on Tuesday revealed that former Mossad Director Yossi Cohen 'threatened and intimidated' Fatou Bensouda, Khan's predecessor in the ICC investigation.

At least four sources with knowledge of Cohen's secret meetings with Bensouda told the publication that the then director of the Mossad attempted, unsuccessfully, "to compromise the prosecutor or enlist her as someone who would cooperate with Israel’s demands." In 2015, Bensouda had opened a preliminary examination into allegations of crimes against humanity in the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Cohen's efforts to court Bensouda are said to have begun in the same year of the preliminary examination. Israel does not recognise the court's jurisdiction.

Cohen, formerly Netanyahu's national security adviser, was appointed Director of the Mossad by the prime minister in 2016. According to the report, Cohen first met Bensouda at the Munich Security Conference in 2017. He later 'ambushed' Bensouda at a meeting with Joseph Kabila, then President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in New York in 2018. Although it is unclear why, Kabila is said to have facilitated Cohen's 'ambush' and 'intimidation tactics'.

Two sources told The Guardian that when Bensouda asked Cohen how he had her number, he responded, “Did you forget what I do for a living?”. Initially, Cohen is said to have “tried to build a relationship” with the prosecutor, playing the “good cop”. However, Cohen resorted to “threats and manipulation” once it became evident that persuasion would not work in making the prosecutor yield. Bensouda then confided in "a small group of senior ICC officials" about Cohen's increasingly "threatening behaviour".

Cohen, who is reported to have met Bensouda at least thrice between 2019 and early 2021, showed her "copies of photographs of her husband", in what one source termed as "stalking". Israel is also said to have engaged in a "diplomatic smear campaign” against the prosecutor. Quoting ICC officials in the know, the publication reported that Cohen 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.”

Cohen was acting as Netanyahu’s “unofficial messenger,” another source told the publication. While Cohen did not respond to a request for comment, Bensouda declined to do so. Netanyahu’s office termed the report "replete with many false and unfounded allegations meant to hurt the state of Israel.”

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Published 30 May 2024, 11:27 IST

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