Former Mossad Chief Accused of Intimidating ICC Prosecutor

The Guardian's investigation unveils how a former Mossad chief reportedly intimidated the ICC's prosecutor, exposing Israel's covert maneuvers to sway the probe into alleged war crimes in Palestinian territories

by Sededin Dedovic
Former Mossad Chief Accused of Intimidating ICC Prosecutor
© Al Jazeera English / Youtube channel

The former chief of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad allegedly threatened the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in secret meetings, trying to pressure her to abandon the investigation into war crimes, writes The Guardian.

Yossi Cohen secretly contacted the then ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in the years leading up to her decision to open an official investigation in 2021 into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The investigation culminated last week when the successor to prosecutor Bensouda, Karim Khan, announced that he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his country's actions in the Gaza war.

The decision by the prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Joav Galant, as well as three Hamas leaders, is an outcome long feared by the Israeli political and military establishment.

Cohen personally engaged in the operation against the ICC while serving as Mossad director, and his activities were authorized at the highest level and justified because the court was seen as a threat to the prosecution of Israeli military personnel, according to an unnamed Israeli official.

Another Israeli official said Mossad's goal was to either compromise the prosecutor or induce her to comply with Israel's demands. A third source familiar with these efforts said Cohen acted as Netanyahu's "unofficial messenger." Cohen, who was one of Netanyahu's closest associates at the time, personally led Mossad's involvement in an almost decade-long campaign to undermine the court.

Four sources confirmed that Bensouda informed a small group of senior ICC officials about Cohen's efforts, concerned about his increasing persistence and threatening behavior. Bensouda officially informed the ICC that Cohen pressured her several times not to initiate a criminal investigation into the Palestinian case.

"You should help us and allow us to take care of you. You don't want to get involved in things that would compromise your safety or that of your family," Cohen allegedly told the prosecutor, according to what an ICC official said.

One person speaking about Cohen's activities said he employed repugnant tactics as part of efforts that ultimately failed to influence or intimidate her. His behavior has been likened to stalking. Among other things, transcripts of secret recordings of her husband were used, said two sources.

The revelation of Cohen's activities is part of an upcoming investigation by The Guardian and two Israeli media outlets aimed at uncovering how several Israeli intelligence agencies have been waging war against the ICC for years.

Palestinians displaced from their homes© Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office responded to The Guardian's inquiries by stating that the accusations are false and unfounded and are intended to harm the state of Israel.

Cohen did not respond to requests for comment, and Bensouda declined. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague demands that Israel immediately cease its military offensive in Rafah, a city in the Gaza Strip. ICJ President Navaf Salam announced last week the judgment made on an urgent request from South Africa.

"Israel must immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in Rafah that could lead to the physical destruction of the local population in whole or in part," said Judge Navaf Salam, President of the International Court of Justice.

The court stated that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip continues to deteriorate. The situation in Rafah is now "catastrophic". The court's decisions are binding even though the court itself lacks the means to enforce its judgments, according to DW.

However, Israel has already signaled that it will not follow such an order from the International Court of Justice. "No force in the world will prevent Israel from protecting its citizens and taking action against Hamas in the Gaza Strip," said Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman on Thursday.

UN court judges even lack mechanisms to compel Israel to comply with the judgment. For example, Russia continues to ignore the 2022 decision to halt its attack on neighboring Ukraine. But you can call on the UN Security Council to take action on this issue.

Israel has rejected accusations of genocide in the Gaza Strip at the International Court of Justice as unfounded. Israel cites its right to self-defense after Hamas terrorists and other extremist groups attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 and kidnapping more than 250 people.

Since early May, the Israeli army says it has been conducting "targeted" operations in the border town of Rafah in southern Gaza. Israel believes that the last remaining Hamas battalions are there and wants to destroy them.

Before the Israeli army began its attack, more than a million internally displaced people from other parts of the Gaza Strip sought refuge there. After nearly eight months of war, Rafah is the last somewhat untouched city in the Gaza Strip.