Feb 7, 2021 - World

Scoop: Israel will ask allies to pressure ICC prosecutor against opening war crimes investigation

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Israel intends to ask dozens of allies to convey a "discreet message" to Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), tomorrow and urge her to not move forward with an investigation against Israel on alleged war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, two Israeli officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: Israel is very concerned any investigation could lead to international arrest warrants against Israel officials and military officers. The Israelis are also concerned such an investigation will boost BDS campaigns against Israel.

Driving the news: The Israeli foreign ministry sent a classified cable to dozens of Israeli ambassadors around the world on Sunday with instructions to start a lobbying effort around Friday's ruling from ICC judges, which cleared the way for an investigation against Israel.

  • The Israeli officials said the cable was designated as “Urgent” and included an instruction that ambassadors should come to the office on Sunday in order to read the classified cable and start reaching out to the governments of the countries they are posted in.
  • In the cable, the Israeli ambassadors were instructed to ask foreign ministers and heads of government in the countries thy are posted in to issue public statements of opposition to the judges decision. So far only the U.S. and Australia issued such statements.

What they are saying: "The U.S. objects to the ICC decision regarding the Palestinian situation. Israel is not a State Party to the Rome Statute. We will continue to uphold President Biden’s strong commitment to Israel and its security, including opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly”, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday.

  • The cable included another sensitive instruction to encourage governments to put political pressure on the ICC prosecutor. “We ask that (governments) send a discreet message to the prosecutor asking her not to move forward with the investigation against Israeli and not give this case a high priority”, the cable reads.
  • “You are instructed to tell the highest levels of government that if an investigation against Israel starts it will create a continuous crisis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that will not allow any diplomatic progress to take place between the parties”, the cable read.

What’s next: The ambassadors were asked to tell friendly countries that Israel wants to open special channels of dialogue that will focus on the ICC issue.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to send letters to dozens of leaders around the world asking for their support in countering any investigation. Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi are expected to make phone call to several of their counterpart in main world powers and allies to discuss the issue.

Flashback: Bensouda announced the potential investigation into Israel and Hamas over alleged war crimes during the 2014 war in Gaza, as well as the construction of West Bank settlements by Israel, in December 2019, and Israel and the Trump administration immediately began attempting to mobilize opposition to try to convince the judges to block it.

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