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ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Photo: Bas Czerwinski/ANP/AFP via Getty

Netanyahu asked Biden in their first phone call last week to keep sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in place, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Israeli officials are concerned that removing the sanctions would hamper Israel's efforts to stop a potential war crimes investigation into Israel, and that the court's prosecutor could see it as a signal that the U.S. isn't firmly opposed to that investigation.

The big picture: ICC judges cleared the way for a potential investigation last month when they ruled that the court has jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza. (Israel isn't a party to the Rome Statute, which set the court's mandate, but the Palestinian territories are.)

  • Israel is very concerned that any investigation could lead to international arrest warrants against Israeli officials and military officers and could boost BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns against Israel.
  • Israel asked dozens of allies to convey a "discreet message" to urge ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda not to move forward with the probe, as Axios reported two weeks ago.

Flashback: While also not a party to the Rome Statute, the U.S. has had its own confrontations with the ICC, which elected last March to pursue an investigation into the war in Afghanistan, which could implicate U.S. troops and the CIA.

  • The Trump administration reacted furiously, imposing sanctions against ICC officials, including Bensouda, and threatening to sanction the court's judges next.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised further steps if the ICC opened a probe into Israel.

The state of play: Israeli diplomats have made the case to their U.S. counterparts that even if the administration disagrees with the sanctions, it should keep them in place as leverage to persuade Bensouda and her successor not to pursue the investigations into Afghanistan or the West Bank and Gaza.

  • The issue was raised in a recent phone call between Ashkenazi and Blinken, Israeli officials say.

What they're saying: “In my phone call with President Biden, we talked about our moral obligation to protect our troops against those who are trying to defame their morality with false claims," Netanyahu said last Thursday at a memorial service for soldiers who were missing in action.

  • His comments went unnoticed, but Israeli officials tell me he was hinting at the possible ICC investigations against Israeli and American soldiers.
  • Netanyahu's office declined to comment for this story, as did the White House and State Department.

Go deeper

Updated Feb 23, 2021 - World

Blinken asks for Israeli help in facilitating COVID vaccines to the Palestinians

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked his Israeli counterpart in their phone call on Monday for Israel to facilitate the transfer of COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli officials told me.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister’s office announced that Israel has decided to send a "symbolic amount" of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority and to several countries that have asked for assistance.

Updated 54 seconds ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.

10 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Democrats join Biden to pivot Build Back Better strategy

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A growing number of Senate Democrats are urging their colleagues to begin paring back the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better agenda to salvage what they can, abandoning hopes of the transformational to achieve the possible.

Why it matters: Democrats are desperate to notch a win. President Biden's popularity is sagging in the polls, the pandemic is raging and the party's record of passing crucial legislation has been muddled. Biden himself conceded during his news conference Wednesday that passing the parts was more likely than getting the whole.