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Israeli journalist threatened over spy chief’s intimidation probe before ICC: report

LONDON: An Israeli journalist has claimed he was threatened by senior security officials to ensure he drops an investigation into claims the Mossad intimidated a former International Criminal Court prosecutor.

In an article published Thursday, Gur Megiddo, an investigative reporter at Haaretz, claimed that Mossad officials tried to block any reporting on the case several years ago through intimidation tactics.

It comes after a report by The Guardian earlier this week that former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen tried to intimidate then-ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Cohen allegedly tried to prevent Bensouda from investigating Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the occupied Palestinian territories.

That investigation, which began in 2021, came to a head last week when Bensouda’s successor, Karim Khan, announced he was seeking an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the country’s handling of the war on Gaza.

“At the beginning of 2022, I tried to contact the former prosecutor through a third party who knew her,” Megiddo wrote.

“Bensouda never responded to the approach, but a few days after the attempt, when I was about to publish the story, my phone rang with the voice of a senior security official on the other end of the line. ‘Can you come see me tomorrow?’ he asked.”

The reporter claimed that during a meeting with two officials, he was told to drop the case or face “consequences” for his actions.

“It was a polite conversation, a polite threat,” Megiddo wrote. “The tone was calm, but the content much less so. They explained to me that if I published the story, I would suffer the consequences and get an inside look at the interrogation rooms of the Israeli security authorities.

“In the end, it was explained to me that even sharing information ‘with friends abroad’ relating to foreign media would lead to the same results,” he added.

Megiddo’s revelations appear to corroborate the Guardian’s report, which was part of a wider investigation. This was carried out by the Israeli magazines +972 and Local Call about Israel’s use of its intelligence agencies to allegedly monitor, hack, pressure, smear and threaten senior staff at the International Criminal Court to thwart its investigations into Palestine.

He explained that after the meeting, he “took the threats very seriously” and decided to publish a redacted version of the story he was working on, reporting only Cohen’s trips to the Congo.

He left out the part about the agency’s effort to persuade Congolese President Joseph Kabila to help pressure Bensouda and disrupt the Hague process.

The revelations come against a backdrop of dwindling media freedom in Israel. +972 magazine and the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel reported that in 2023, the military censor banned publication of 613 articles – a record annual number since +972 began collecting data in 2011.

In early May, authorities closed the offices of Qatari media outlet Al Jazeera after passing a highly controversial law that gives Israel the power to temporarily shut down foreign media houses if they are deemed a security threat.

Equipment owned by The Associated Press was briefly seized last week, prompting US government intervention.

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