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    Spying, hacking and intimidation: Israel’s nine-year ‘war’ on the ICC exposed

    When the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court (ICC) announced he was seeking arrest warrants against Israeli and Hamas leaders, he issued a cryptic warning: “I insist that all attempts to impede, intimidate or improperly influence the officials of this court must cease immediately.”Karim Khan did not provide specific details of attempts to interfere in the ICC’s work, but he noted a clause in the court’s foundational treaty that made any such interference a criminal offence. If the conduct continued, he added, “my office will not hesitate to act”.The prosecutor did not say who had attempted to intervene in the administration of justice, or how exactly they had done so.Now, an investigation by the Guardian and the Israeli-based magazines +972 and Local Call can reveal how Israel has run an almost decade-long secret “war” against the court. The country deployed its intelligence agencies to surveil, hack, pressure, smear and allegedly threaten senior ICC staff in an effort to derail the court’s inquiries.Israeli intelligence captured the communications of numerous ICC officials, including Khan and his predecessor as prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, intercepting phone calls, messages, emails and documents.The surveillance was ongoing in recent months, providing Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with advance knowledge of the prosecutor’s intentions. A recent intercepted communication suggested that Khan wanted to issue arrest warrants against Israelis but was under “tremendous pressure from the United States”, according to a source familiar with its contents.View image in fullscreenBensouda, who as chief prosecutor opened the ICC’s investigation in 2021, paving the way for last week’s announcement, was also spied on and allegedly threatened.Netanyahu has taken a close interest in the intelligence operations against the ICC, and was described by one intelligence source as being “obsessed” with intercepts about the case. Overseen by his national security advisers, the efforts involved the domestic spy agency, the Shin Bet, as well as the military’s intelligence directorate, Aman, and cyber-intelligence division, Unit 8200. Intelligence gleaned from intercepts was, sources said, disseminated to government ministries of justice, foreign affairs and strategic affairs.A covert operation against Bensouda, revealed on Tuesday by the Guardian, was run personally by Netanyahu’s close ally Yossi Cohen, who was at the time the director of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad. At one stage, the spy chief even enlisted the help of the then president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila.Details of Israel’s nine-year campaign to thwart the ICC’s inquiry have been uncovered by the Guardian, an Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Local Call, a Hebrew-language outlet.The joint investigation draws on interviews with more than two dozen current and former Israeli intelligence officers and government officials, senior ICC figures, diplomats and lawyers familiar with the ICC case and Israel’s efforts to undermine it.Contacted by the Guardian, a spokesperson for the ICC said it was aware of “proactive intelligence-gathering activities being undertaken by a number of national agencies hostile towards the court”. They said the ICC was continually implementing countermeasures against such activity, and that “none of the recent attacks against it by national intelligence agencies” had penetrated the court’s core evidence holdings, which had remained secure.A spokesperson for Israel’s prime minister’s office said: “The questions forwarded to us are replete with many false and unfounded allegations meant to hurt the state of Israel.” A military spokesperson added: “The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] did not and does not conduct surveillance or other intelligence operations against the ICC.”Since it was established in 2002, the ICC has served as a permanent court of last resort for the prosecution of individuals accused of some of the world’s worst atrocities. It has charged the former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, the late Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi and most recently, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.Khan’s decision to seek warrants against Netanyahu and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, along with Hamas leaders implicated in the 7 October attack, marks the first time an ICC prosecutor has sought arrest warrants against the leader of a close western ally.View image in fullscreenThe allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity that Khan has levelled against Netanyahu and Gallant all relate to Israel’s eight-month war in Gaza, which according to the territory’s health authority has killed more than 35,000 people.But the ICC case has been a decade in the making, inching forward amid rising alarm among Israeli officials at the possibility of arrest warrants, which would prevent those accused from travelling to any of the court’s 124 member states for fear of arrest.It is this spectre of prosecutions in The Hague that one former Israeli intelligence official said had led the “entire military and political establishment” to regard the counteroffensive against the ICC “as a war that had to be waged, and one that Israel needed to be defended against. It was described in military terms.”That “war” commenced in January 2015, when it was confirmed that Palestine would join the court after it was recognised as a state by the UN general assembly. Its accession was condemned by Israeli officials as a form of “diplomatic terrorism”.One former defence official familiar with Israel’s counter-ICC effort said joining the court had been “perceived as the crossing of a red line” and “perhaps the most aggressive” diplomatic move taken by the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. “To be recognised as a state in the UN is nice,” they added. “But the ICC is a mechanism with teeth.”View image in fullscreenA hand-delivered threatFor Fatou Bensouda, a respected Gambian lawyer who was elected the ICC’s chief prosecutor in 2012, the accession of Palestine to the court brought with it a momentous decision. Under the Rome statute, the treaty that established the court, the ICC can exercise its jurisdiction only over crimes within member states or by nationals of those states.Israel, like the US, Russia and China, is not a member. After Palestine’s acceptance as an ICC member, any alleged war crimes – committed by those of any nationality – in occupied Palestinian territories now fell under Bensouda’s jurisdiction.On 16 January 2015, within weeks of Palestine joining, Bensouda opened a preliminary examination into what in the legalese of the court was called “the situation in Palestine”. The following month, two men who had managed to obtain the prosecutor’s private address turned up at her home in The Hague.Sources familiar with the incident said the men declined to identify themselves when they arrived, but said they wanted to hand-deliver a letter to Bensouda on behalf of an unknown German woman who wanted to thank her. The envelope contained hundreds of dollars in cash and a note with an Israeli phone number.View image in fullscreenSources with knowledge of an ICC review into the incident said that while it was not possible to identify the men, or fully establish their motives, it was concluded that Israel was likely to be signalling to the prosecutor that it knew where she lived. The ICC reported the incident to Dutch authorities and put in place additional security, installing CCTV cameras at her home.The ICC’s preliminary inquiry in the Palestinian territories was one of several such fact-finding exercises the court was undertaking at the time, as a precursor to a possible full investigation. Bensouda’s caseload also included nine full investigations, including into events in DRC, Kenya and the Darfur region of Sudan.Officials in the prosecutor’s office believed the court was vulnerable to espionage activity and introduced countersurveillance measures to protect their confidential inquiries.In Israel, the prime minister’s national security council (NSC) had mobilised a response involving its intelligence agencies. Netanyahu and some of the generals and spy chiefs who authorised the operation had a personal stake in its outcome.Unlike the international court of justice (ICJ), a UN body that deals with the legal responsibility of nation states, the ICC is a criminal court that prosecutes individuals, targeting those deemed most responsible for atrocities.View image in fullscreenMultiple Israeli sources said the leadership of the IDF wanted military intelligence to join the effort, which was being led by other spy agencies, to ensure senior officers could be protected from charges. “We were told that senior officers are afraid to accept positions in the West Bank because they are afraid of being prosecuted in The Hague,” one source recalled.Two intelligence officials involved in procuring intercepts about the ICC said the prime minister’s office took a keen interest in their work. Netanyahu’s office, one said, would send “areas of interests” and “instructions” in relation to the monitoring of court officials. Another described the prime minister as “obsessed” with intercepts shedding light on the activities of the ICC.Hacked emails and monitored callsFive sources familiar with Israel’s intelligence activities said it routinely spied on the phone calls made by Bensouda and her staff with Palestinians. Blocked by Israel from accessing Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the ICC was forced to conduct much of its research by telephone, which made it more susceptible to surveillance.Thanks to their comprehensive access to Palestinian telecoms infrastructure, the sources said, intelligence operatives could capture the calls without installing spyware on the ICC official’s devices.“If Fatou Bensouda spoke to any person in the West Bank or Gaza, then that phone call would enter [intercept] systems,” one source said. Another said there was no hesitation internally over spying on the prosecutor, adding: “With Bensouda, she’s black and African, so who cares?”The surveillance system did not capture calls between ICC officials and anyone outside Palestine. However, multiple sources said the system required the active selection of the overseas phone numbers of ICC officials whose calls Israeli intelligence agencies decided to listen to.According to one Israeli source, a large whiteboard in an Israeli intelligence department contained the names of about 60 people under surveillance – half of them Palestinians and half from other countries, including UN officials and ICC personnel.In The Hague, Bensouda and her senior staff were alerted by security advisers and via diplomatic channels that Israel was monitoring their work. A former senior ICC official recalled: “We were made aware they were trying to get information on where we were with the preliminary examination.”Officials also became aware of specific threats against a prominent Palestinian NGO, Al-Haq, which was one of several Palestinian human rights groups that frequently submitted information to the ICC inquiry, often in lengthy documents detailing incidents it wanted the prosecutor to consider. The Palestinian Authority submitted similar dossiers.View image in fullscreenSuch documents often contained sensitive information such as testimony from potential witnesses. Al-Haq’s submissions are also understood to have linked specific allegations of Rome statute crimes to senior officials, including chiefs of the IDF, directors of the Shin Bet, and defence ministers such as Benny Gantz.Years later, after the ICC had opened a full investigation into the Palestine case, Gantz designated Al-Haq and five other Palestinian rights groups as “terrorist organisations”, a label that was rejected by multiple European states and later found by the CIA to be unsupported by evidence. The organisations said the designations were a “targeted assault” against those most actively engaging with the ICC.According to multiple current and former intelligence officials, military cyber-offensive teams and the Shin Bet both systematically monitored the employees of Palestinian NGOs and the Palestinian Authority who were engaging with the ICC. Two intelligence sources described how Israeli operatives hacked into the emails of Al-Haq and other groups communicating with Bensouda’s office.One of the sources said the Shin Bet even installed Pegasus spyware, developed by the private-sector NSO Group, on the phones of multiple Palestinian NGO employees, as well as two senior Palestinian Authority officials.Keeping tabs on the Palestinian submissions to the ICC’s inquiry was viewed as part of the Shin Bet’s mandate, but some army officials were concerned that spying on a foreign civilian entity crossed a line, as it had little to do with military operations.“It has nothing to do with Hamas, it has nothing to do with stability in the West Bank,” one military source said of the ICC surveillance. Another added: “We used our resources to spy on Fatou Bensouda – this isn’t something legitimate to do as military intelligence.”Secret meetings with the ICCLegitimate or otherwise, the surveillance of the ICC and Palestinians making the case for prosecutions against Israelis provided the Israeli government with an advantage in a secret back channel it had opened with the prosecutor’s office.Israel’s meetings with the ICC were highly sensitive: if made public, they had the potential to undermine the government’s official position that it did not recognise the court’s authority.According to six sources familiar with the meetings, they consisted of a delegation of top government lawyers and diplomats who travelled to The Hague. Two of the sources said the meetings were authorised by Netanyahu.The Israeli delegation was drawn from the justice ministry, foreign ministry and the military advocate general’s office. The meetings took place between 2017 and 2019, and were led by the prominent Israeli lawyer and diplomat Tal Becker.“In the beginning it was tense,” recalled a former ICC official. “We would get into details of specific incidents. We’d say: ‘We’re receiving allegations about these attacks, these killings,’ and they would provide us with information.”View image in fullscreenA person with direct knowledge of Israel’s preparation for the back-channel meetings said officials in the justice ministry were furnished with intelligence that had been gleaned from Israeli surveillance intercepts before delegations arrived at The Hague. “The lawyers who dealt with the issue at the justice ministry had a big thirst for intelligence information,” they said.For the Israelis, the back-channel meetings, while sensitive, presented a unique opportunity to directly present legal arguments challenging the prosecutor’s jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories.They also sought to convince the prosecutor that, despite the Israeli military’s highly questionable record of investigating wrongdoing in its ranks, it had robust procedures for holding its armed forces to account.This was a critical issue for Israel. A core ICC principle, known as complementarity, prevents the prosecutor from investigating or trying individuals if they are the subject of credible state-level investigations or criminal proceedings.Israeli surveillance operatives were asked to find out which specific incidents might form part of a future ICC prosecution, multiple sources said, in order to enable Israeli investigative bodies to “open investigations retroactively” in the same cases.“If materials were transferred to the ICC, we had to understand exactly what they were, to ensure that the IDF investigated them independently and sufficiently so that they could claim complementarity,” one source explained.Israel’s back-channel meetings with the ICC ended in December 2019, when Bensouda, announcing the end of her preliminary examination, said she believed there was a “reasonable basis” to conclude that Israel and Palestinian armed groups had both committed war crimes in the occupied territories.View image in fullscreenIt was a significant setback for Israel’s leaders, although it could have been worse. In a move that some in the government regarded as a partial vindication of Israel’s lobbying efforts, Bensouda stopped short of launching a formal investigation.Instead, she announced she would ask a panel of ICC judges to rule on the contentious question of the court’s jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories, due to “unique and highly contested legal and factual issues”.Yet Bensouda had made clear she was minded to open a full investigation if the judges gave her the green light. It was against this backdrop that Israel ramped up its campaign against the ICC and turned to its top spy chief to turn up the heat on Bensouda personally.Personal threats and a ‘smear campaign’Between late 2019 and early 2021, as the pre-trial chamber considered the jurisdictional questions, the director of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, intensified his efforts to persuade Bensouda not to proceed with the investigation.Cohen’s contacts with Bensouda – which were described to the Guardian by four people familiar with the prosecutor’s contemporaneous accounts of the interactions, as well as sources briefed on the Mossad operation – had begun several years earlier.In one of the earliest encounters, Cohen surprised Bensouda when he made an unexpected appearance at an official meeting the prosecutor was holding with the then DRC president, Joseph Kabila, in a New York hotel suite.View image in fullscreenSources familiar with the meeting said that after Bensouda’s staff were asked to leave the room, the director of the Mossad suddenly appeared from behind a door in a carefully choreographed “ambush”.After the incident in New York, Cohen persisted in contacting the prosecutor, turning up unannounced and subjecting her to unwanted calls. While initially amicable, the sources said, Cohen’s behaviour became increasingly threatening and intimidating.A close ally of Netanyahu at the time, Cohen was a veteran Mossad spymaster and had gained a reputation within the service as a skilled recruiter of agents with experience cultivating high-level officials in foreign governments.Accounts of his secret meetings with Bensouda paint a picture in which he sought to “build a relationship” with the prosecutor as he attempted to dissuade her from pursuing an investigation that, if it went ahead, could embroil senior Israeli officials.Three sources briefed on Cohen’s activities said they understood the spy chief had tried to recruit Bensouda into complying with Israel’s demands during the period in which she was waiting for a ruling from the pre-trial chamber.They said he became more threatening after he began to realise the prosecutor would not be persuaded to abandon the investigation. At one stage, Cohen is said to have made comments about Bensouda’s security and thinly veiled threats about the consequences for her career if she proceeded. Contacted by the Guardian, Cohen and Kabila did not respond to requests for comment. Bensouda declined to comment.View image in fullscreenWhen she was prosecutor, Bensouda formally disclosed her encounters with Cohen to a small group within the ICC, with the intention of putting on record her belief that she had been “personally threatened”, sources familiar with the disclosures said.This was not the only way Israel sought to place pressure on the prosecutor. At around the same time, ICC officials discovered details of what sources described as a diplomatic “smear campaign”, relating in part to a close family member.According to multiple sources, the Mossad had obtained a cache of material including transcripts of an apparent sting operation against Bensouda’s husband. The origins of the material – and whether it was genuine – remain unclear.However, elements of the information were circulated by Israel among western diplomatic officials, sources said, in a failed attempt to discredit the chief prosecutor. A person briefed on the campaign said it gained little traction among diplomats and amounted to a desperate attempt to “besmirch” Bensouda’s reputation.Trump’s campaign against the ICCIn March 2020, three months after Bensouda referred the Palestine case to the pre-trial chamber, an Israeli government delegation reportedly held discussions in Washington with senior US officials about “a joint Israeli-American struggle” against the ICC.One Israeli intelligence official said they regarded Donald Trump’s administration as more cooperative than that of his Democratic predecessor. The Israelis felt sufficiently comfortable to ask for information from US intelligence about Bensouda, a request the source said would have been “impossible” during Barack Obama’s tenure.View image in fullscreenDays before the meetings in Washington, Bensouda had received authorisation from the ICC’s judges to pursue a separate investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan committed by the Taliban and both Afghan and US military personnel.Fearing US armed forces would be prosecuted, the Trump administration was engaged in its own aggressive campaign against the ICC, culminating in the summer of 2020 with the imposition of US economic sanctions on Bensouda and one of her top officials.Among ICC officials, the US-led financial and visa restrictions on court personnel were believed to relate as much to the Palestine investigation as to the Afghanistan case. Two former ICC officials said senior Israeli officials had expressly indicated to them that Israel and the US were working together.At a press conference in June that year, senior Trump administration figures signalled their intention to impose sanctions on ICC officials, announcing they had received unspecified information about “financial corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels of the office of the prosecutor”.As well as referring to the Afghanistan case, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, linked the US measures to the Palestine case. “It’s clear the ICC is only putting Israel in [its] crosshairs for nakedly political purposes,” he said. Months later, Pompeo accused Bensouda of having “engaged in corrupt acts for her personal benefit”.The US has never publicly provided any information to substantiate that charge, and Joe Biden lifted the sanctions months after he entered the White House.View image in fullscreenBut at the time Bensouda faced increasing pressure from an apparently concerted effort behind the scenes by the two powerful allies. As a Gambian national, she did not enjoy the political protection that other ICC colleagues from western countries had by virtue of their citizenship. A former ICC source said this left her “vulnerable and isolated”.Cohen’s activities, sources said, were particularly concerning for the prosecutor and led her to fear for her personal safety. When the pre-trial chamber finally confirmed the ICC had jurisdiction in Palestine in February 2021, some at the ICC even believed Bensouda should leave the final decision to open a full investigation to her successor.On 3 March, however, months before the end of her nine-year term, Bensouda announced a full investigation in the Palestine case, setting in motion a process that could lead to criminal charges, though she cautioned the next phase could take time.“Any investigation undertaken by the office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour,” she said. “To both Palestinian and Israeli victims and affected communities, we urge patience.”Khan announces arrest warrantsWhen Khan took the helm at the ICC prosecutor’s office in June 2021, he inherited an investigation he later said “lies on the San Andreas fault of international politics and strategic interests”.As he took office, other investigations – including on events in the Philippines, DRC, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – competed for his attention, and in March 2022, days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, he opened a high-profile investigation into alleged Russian war crimes.Initially, the politically sensitive Palestine inquiry was not treated as a priority by the British prosecutor’s team, sources familiar with the case said. One said it was in effect “on the shelf” – but Khan’s office disputes this and says it established a dedicated investigative team to take the inquiry forward.In Israel, the government’s top lawyers regarded Khan – who had previously defended warlords such as the former Liberian president Charles Taylor – as a more cautious prosecutor than Bensouda. One former senior Israeli official said there was “lots of respect” for Khan, unlike for his predecessor. His appointment to the court was viewed as a “reason for optimism”, they said, but they added that the 7 October attack “changed that reality”.The Hamas assault on southern Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed nearly 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped about 250 people, clearly involved brazen war crimes. So, too, in the view of many legal experts, has Israel’s subsequent onslaught on Gaza, which is estimated to have killed more than 35,000 people and brought the territory to the brink of famine through Israel’s obstruction of humanitarian aid.By the end of the third week of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, Khan was on the ground at the Rafah border crossing. He subsequently made visits to the West Bank and southern Israel, where he was invited to meet survivors of the 7 October attack and the relatives of people who had been killed.In February 2024, Khan issued a strongly worded statement that Netanyahu’s legal advisers interpreted as an ominous sign. In the post on X, he in effect warned Israel against launching an assault on Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, where more than 1 million displaced people were sheltering at the time.“I am deeply concerned by the reported bombardment and potential ground incursion by Israeli forces in Rafah,” he wrote. “Those who do not comply with the law should not complain later when my office takes action.”View image in fullscreenThe comments stirred alarm within the Israeli government as they appeared to deviate from his previous statements about the war, which officials had viewed as reassuringly cautious. “That tweet surprised us a lot,” a senior official said.Concerns in Israel over Khan’s intentions escalated last month when the government briefed the media that it believed the prosecutor was contemplating arrest warrants against Netanyahu and other senior officials such as Yoav Gallant.Israeli intelligence had intercepted emails, attachments and text messages from Khan and other officials in his office. “The subject of the ICC climbed the ladder of priorities for Israeli intelligence,” one intelligence source said.It was via intercepted communications that Israel established that Khan was at one stage considering entering Gaza through Egypt and wanted urgent assistance doing so “without Israel’s permission”.Another Israeli intelligence assessment, circulated widely in the intelligence community, drew on surveillance of a call between two Palestinian politicians. One of them said Khan had indicated that a request for arrest warrants of Israeli leaders could be imminent, but warned he was “under tremendous pressure from the United States”.It was against this backdrop that Netanyahu made a series of public statements warning a request for arrest warrants could be imminent. He called on “the leaders of the free world to stand firmly against the ICC” and “use all the means at their disposal to stop this dangerous move”.He added: “Branding Israel’s leaders and soldiers as war criminals will pour jet fuel on the fires of antisemitism.” In Washington, a group of senior US Republican senators had already sent a threatening letter to Khan with a clear warning: “Target Israel and we will target you.”View image in fullscreenThe ICC, meanwhile, has strengthened its security with regular sweeps of the prosecutor’s offices, security checks on devices, phone-free areas, weekly threat assessments and the introduction of specialist equipment. An ICC spokesperson said Khan’s office had been subjected to “several forms of threats and communications that could be viewed as attempts to unduly influence its activities”.Khan recently disclosed in an interview with CNN that some elected leaders had been “very blunt” with him as he prepared to issue arrest warrants. “‘This court is built for Africa and for thugs like Putin,’ is was what a senior leader told me.”Despite the pressure, Khan, like his predecessor in the prosecutor’s office, chose to press ahead. Last week, Khan announced he was seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant alongside three Hamas leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity.He said Israel’s prime minister and defence minister stood accused of responsibility for extermination, starvation, the denial of humanitarian relief supplies and deliberate targeting of civilians.Standing at a lectern with two of his top prosecutors – one American, the other British – at his side, Khan said he had repeatedly told Israel to take urgent action to comply with humanitarian law.“I specifically underlined that starvation as a method of war and the denial of humanitarian relief constitute Rome statute offences. I could not have been clearer,” he said. “As I also repeatedly underlined in my public statements, those who do not comply with the law should not complain later when my office takes action. That day has come.” More

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    ICJ Orders Israel to Halt Its Military Incursion Into Rafah

    The International Court of Justice has no means to enforce its order in the Gazan city, but the ruling added pressure on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.The International Court of Justice on Friday ordered Israel to “immediately” halt its military offensive in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, dealing another blow to the country as it faces increasing international isolation and a drumbeat of criticism over its conduct in the war.The court has few effective means of enforcing its order, and it stopped short of ordering a cease-fire in Gaza, with some of the court’s judges arguing that Israel could still conduct some military operations in Rafah under the terms of their decision.But the order added more pressure on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has faced domestic and external calls to reach a cease-fire deal with Hamas that would lead to the release of hostages held in Gaza.“The court considers that, in conformity with obligations under the Genocide Convention, Israel must immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” the court’s president, Nawaf Salam, said in reading the 13-2 ruling.The court, based at The Hague, also specified the need for open land crossings, in particular the Rafah crossing, as part of its request for “the unhindered provision” of humanitarian assistance and services. Israel has controlled the Rafah crossing for more than two weeks, and very few aid trucks have entered the enclave since, according to United Nations data.The Israeli government said in a statement that its military “has not and will not” take actions that would lead to the partial or complete destruction of the Palestinian population of Rafah. In effect, it said that the court’s decision has no bearing on Israel’s offensive because the prohibited acts are not occurring. We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Another week, another Trump flirtation with fascism

    Welcome back to the Stakes, our weekly US politics newsletter. I cover democracy issues, and I’m filling in for Adam Gabbatt this week as Donald Trump flirted with a third term in office (yes, that’s illegal) and posted a video promising a “unified reich” (yes, that’s Nazi-adjacent language). Weird how these anti-democratic “gaffes” keep happening! We’ll get into why that might be, after a look at what else is happening in US politics.Here’s what you need to know
    Trump rests, but doesn’t get any restOn the 20th day of the hush-money trial in New York, Trump declined to take the stand and the defense rested. Trump had falsely claimed he wasn’t allowed to take the stand: he was, and he chose not to. Outside the courtroom, he said although the defense would rest quickly, he himself would not be resting. “I don’t rest. I’d like to rest sometimes, but I don’t get to rest.”
    Biden’s Israel problemThe international criminal court’s prosecutor applied for arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas, and Joe Biden is not pleased. He called the warrant application “outrageous” and said: “We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.” His strong backing of Israel comes as the progressive left continues to pressure him to end US support for the Israel-Gaza war.
    That’s not the way the flag goesAn upside-down US flag – a symbol of those who believed the 2020 election was stolen – flew outside the home of the supreme court justice Samuel Alito’s home shortly after the January 6 insurrection in 2021. Alito blamed his wife, saying she did it as part of a dispute with a neighbor, but many observers saw it as the latest example of the politicization of the high court.
    Too many coincidencesView image in fullscreenAnother week, another few instances of Trump flirting with fascism.On Monday, Trump’s Truth Social account reposted a video about a second Trump term which included a fake newspaper with reference to a “unified reich”. The term means “empire” in German and is indelibly associated with Hitler’s rule, which the Nazis called the Third Reich.Biden’s campaign seized on it, saying Trump was telegraphing how he’d lead “as a dictator over a ‘unified reich’”. Trump’s campaign defended themselves by arguing it was all a mistake, saying a staffer reposted the video but didn’t see the words.But the video remained on Trump’s page for 15 hours, long after media outlets had reported on it, and stayed up even after the Trump campaign had acknowledged it in its statement.This pattern isn’t new for Trump: he will often use fascist language or nods to extremist groups, then claim it was a mistake or that the left and the media are twisting a narrative.Like claiming he would be a “dictator on day one”, but only for a day. Or promising a “bloodbath” if he lost the election, which his campaign later declared was a reference to the auto industry. Or calling his political opponents “vermin” – something Hitler also did – and saying immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the US.Most recently, just days before the Truth Social video, speaking at the National Rifle Association’s convention, Trump floated the idea of a third term. US presidents are limited to two terms by the 22nd amendment to the constitution, which was passed in 1951 a few years after Franklin D Roosevelt won his fourth term.“You know, FDR 16 years – almost 16 years – he was four terms. I don’t know, are we going to be considered three-term? Or two-term?” Trump asked the NRA crowd, some of whom responded “three!”He has previously said he wouldn’t try for a third term – which is good, because it’s not clear how he could unless he figures out how to suspend or override the constitution – and if that were to happen, who knows what comes next.Regardless, the prospect of “Trump forever” is clearly on voters’ minds when they’re deciding who to elect this year, a sign that his ongoing authoritarian bent is spooking at least part of the undecided electorate.“I wouldn’t put it past him, now that he owns the RNC, to say: ‘Don Jr is going to do the next term, and he’ll get two,” said one focus group attendee who was quoted by Bloomberg.“‘And then Barron will get two.’ And we’ll just have some fake monarchy.”Worst weekView image in fullscreenArizona’s fake electors. Eleven of them were arraigned on Tuesday in the state’s case against the people who falsely signed documents saying Trump won the state, and the Trump allies who drummed up the idea.Among the 11 were Christina Bobb, an attorney who is now the Republican National Committee’s senior counsel for election integrity; Rudy Giuliani (last week’s “worst week” winner); former Arizona Republican party chair Kelli Ward and her husband, Michael; and Anthony Kern, a sitting state senator.Giuliani, 80, is so far the only one charged who was required by the court to post a bond, for $10,000. The former New York City mayor led the attorney general’s office on a cross-country chase, which culminated at his birthday party – after taunting the AG on social media – where court officials served him the charges. He later complained that the summons was not delivered to him “stylishly”, though it’s more stylish than usual to serve charges by crashing an 80-year-old’s birthday bash.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionBiggest lieView image in fullscreenTrump. The former president was in my home state last Friday for a fundraiser where he again told a whopper: that he won Minnesota in the 2020 election.Obviously, he falsely claims nonstop that he won the entire election in 2020. But the Minnesota claim is a bit newer, as he tries to make the case that the state’s voters should swing to him.“I thought we won it in 2016. I thought we won it in ’20 – I know we won it in 2020,” he said, according to NBC.The 2020 election in Minnesota was not close: Trump lost by more than 233,000 votes, though he was closer in 2016, losing to Hillary Clinton by less than 45,000. Could he win the state in 2024? If he did, it would almost certainly mean Biden lost spectacularly nationwide: Minnesota is a Democratic stronghold for presidents, and the last Republican who won it was Richard Nixon in 1972.Elsewhere in US politicsView image in fullscreen The majority of Americans – nearly three in five – wrongly believe the US is in an economic recession, and many blame Biden, an exclusive new poll for the Guardian revealed. You can also take our quiz to see if you know how the US economy is faring. Two states have required schools to show an animated video in sex ed classes called Meet Baby Olivia, created by an anti-abortion group to show fetal development. Carter Sherman reports on the latest front of the anti-abortion movement. A Republican concerned about election fraud in 2020 found no fraud once he took over his county’s elections after winning office, Alice Herman reports from conservative Hillsdale county, Michigan.Words fail usView image in fullscreen“If I put my name on something, I really believe it”: Rudy Giuliani, who declared bankruptcy and owes massive legal fees and debts from various civil and criminal lawsuits, on his new coffee line, which he called “smooth, rich, chocolatey and gentle on your stomach”. More

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    Parts of Gaza in ‘Full-Blown Famine,’ U.N. Aid Official Says

    Cindy McCain, the director of the World Food Program, said starvation is entrenched in northern Gaza and is “moving its way south.”The leader of the World Food Program said that parts of the Gaza Strip are experiencing a “full-blown famine” that is spreading across the territory after almost seven months of war that have made delivering aid extremely challenging.“There is famine — full-blown famine in the north, and it’s moving its way south,” Cindy McCain, the program’s director, said in excerpts released late Friday of an interview with “Meet The Press.” Ms. McCain is the second high-profile American leading a U.S. government or U.N. aid effort who has said that there is famine in northern Gaza, although her remarks do not constitute an official declaration, which is a complex bureaucratic process.She did not explain why an official famine declaration has not been made. But she said her assessment was “based on what we have seen and what we have experienced on the ground.”The hunger crisis is most severe in the strip’s northern section, a largely lawless and gang ridden area where the Israeli military exercises little or no control. In recent weeks, after Israel faced mounting global pressure to improve dire conditions there, more aid has flowed into the devastated area.On the diplomatic front, negotiations resumed in Cairo on Saturday aimed at reaching a cease-fire and an agreement to release Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. A delegation of Hamas leaders traveled to the Egyptian capital, the Palestinian armed group said.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Israeli Officials Believe I.C.C. Is Preparing Arrest Warrants Over Hamas War

    Israeli officials increasingly believe that the International Criminal Court is preparing to issue arrest warrants for senior government officials on charges related to the conflict with Hamas, according to five Israeli and foreign officials.The Israeli and foreign officials also believe the court is weighing arrest warrants for leaders from Hamas.If the court proceeds, the Israeli officials could potentially be accused of preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and pursuing an excessively harsh response to the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, according to two of the five officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.The Israeli officials, who are worried about the potential fallout from such a case, said they believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is among those who might be named in a warrant. It is not clear who might be charged from Hamas or what crimes would be cited.The Israeli officials did not disclose the nature of the information that led them to be concerned about potential I.C.C. action, and the court did not comment on the matter.Arrest warrants from the court would probably be seen in much of the world as a humbling moral rebuke, particularly to Israel, which for months has faced international backlash over its conduct in Gaza, including from President Biden, who called it “over the top.”We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Venezuela Holds a Key Vote on Sunday. Here’s What You Need to Know.

    Ten opposition candidates are running to face off against President Nicolás Maduro next year. A center-right former legislator, María Corina Machado, is widely expected to win.One million Venezuelans headed to the polls on Sunday to elect an opposition candidate to face President Nicolás Maduro in presidential elections in 2024, a contest that could prove pivotal to the fate of a country that has endured a decade of economic crisis and authoritarian governance.Mr. Maduro came to power in 2013, after the death of Hugo Chávez, the founder of the country’s socialist-inspired revolution. Under Mr. Maduro, Venezuela, once among the richest countries in Latin America, has undergone an extraordinary economic collapse, leading to a humanitarian crisis that has sent more than seven million people fleeing.But the Maduro government and the opposition signed an agreement on Tuesday meant to move toward free and fair elections, including allowing the opposition to choose a candidate for next year’s presidential contest.Sunday’s election, however, will take place with no official government support. Instead, the vote is being organized by civil society, with polling stations in homes, parks and the offices of opposition parties.The leading candidate is María Corina Machado, a center-right former legislator, who has declared herself the country’s best shot yet at ousting the socialist-inspired government that has governed since 1999.Here is what you need to know about Sunday’s election:How are relations between Venezuela and the United States?The United States for years has leveled sanctions on some Venezuelan leaders, but the Trump administration significantly tightened them in 2019, after an election that was widely viewed as fraudulent, in which Mr. Maduro claimed victory.Mr. Maduro has long sought the lifting of the sanctions, which have strangled the economy, while the United States and its allies in the Venezuelan opposition have wanted Mr. Maduro to allow competitive elections that could give his political opponents a legitimate chance at winning.President Nicolás Maduro, with President Gustavo Petro of Colombia last year, has sought the lifting of economic sanctions.Federico Rios for The New York TimesThe past week has seen the most significant softening of relations between Venezuela and the United States in years.Venezuela’s authoritarian government has agreed to accept Venezuelan migrants deported from the United States, signed an agreement with opposition leaders devised to move toward a free and fair presidential election, and released five political prisoners.In exchange, the United States has agreed to lift some economic sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, a vital source of income for the Maduro government.What effect does the easing of sanctions have?The sanctions relief announced this past week allows Venezuela’s state-owned oil company to export oil and gas to the United States for six months. For the past few years, the Venezuelan government has been exporting oil to China and other countries at a significant discount.While the move is expected to be a significant boon to Venezuela’s public finances, analysts said that poor infrastructure and a reluctance by some outside investors to quickly enter the Venezuelan market present significant challenges.What is driving these developments?Among the factors driving this flurry of new policies is Venezuela’s increased geopolitical importance.The South American country is home to the largest proved oil reserves in the world, and there is growing U.S. interest in those reserves amid concern over a broader conflict in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine, which has threatened access to global oil supplies.Venezuela is home to the largest proved oil reserves in the world. Adriana Loureiro Fernandez for The New York TimesWhile it would take years for Venezuela’s hobbled oil industry infrastructure to recover, the country’s petroleum reserves could be crucial in the future.The Biden administration is also increasingly interested in improving the economic situation in Venezuela to try to stem the surges of Venezuelan migrants seeking to reach the United States.Could this election really lead to a change in Venezuela’s leadership?Experts are skeptical that Mr. Maduro will willingly give up power, or allow elections to take place if there is a chance he might not win.His government is being investigated by the International Criminal Court for possible crimes against humanity, and the United States has set a $15 million reward for his arrest to face drug trafficking charges. Leaving office could mean lengthy jail terms for Mr. Maduro and his associates.So despite the significance of the recent announcements, some analysts worry that Mr. Maduro is playing both the opposition and the U.S. government, and could ultimately end up with everything he seeks: relief from the sanctions; at least some international recognition for his bow toward fair elections; and a victory next year that allows him to retain power.The United States has tried to prevent that from happening by making clear that the sanctions could be reinstated at any time.But some analysts say that could be difficult if companies take advantage of the sanctions relief and start investing in Venezuela. If that happens, it might be hard to put the sanctions back in place.Who is María Corina Machado, the leading candidate?Ms. Machado is a veteran politician nicknamed “the iron lady” because of her adversarial relationship with the governments of Mr. Maduro and Mr. Chávez. She is viewed by some supporters as courageous for staying in the country when many other politicians have fled political persecution.Her proposals to open up the free market and reduce the role of the state have earned her a loyal base across social classes.Ms. Machado’s adversarial relationship with Mr. Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, have earned her the nickname “the iron lady.” Adriana Loureiro Fernandez for The New York TimesBut as she has promoted her candidacy, Ms. Machado’s campaign has been plagued by violence and government surveillance.She has been beaten by people holding Maduro signs, and had animal blood thrown at her at one rally at which The New York Times was present. She has been followed by military intelligence police, and she bypasses police roadblocks by riding on the motorcycles of her supporters.Could Ms. Machado actually win the presidency?Polls suggest that Ms. Machado is likely to win the primary, which has 10 candidates.The group of contenders, who represent a spectrum of ideological views, includes former governors, activists, professors and lawyers, though none seems to have broken through enough to pose a serious challenge to Ms. Machado.But the biggest question is whether Ms. Machado, assuming she wins, will be able to participate in the general election.Mr. Maduro’s government has banned Ms. Machado from running for office for 15 years, claiming that she did not complete her declaration of assets and income when she was a legislator. These types of disqualifications are a common tactic used by Mr. Maduro to keep strong competitors off ballots.Despite an agreement this week to move toward competitive election conditions, the Maduro government has shown little indication that it will allow Ms. Machado to run.The Biden administration has made clear that it expects Mr. Maduro to reinstate banned candidates or face the restoration of sanctions.If Ms. Machado is not allowed to run in 2024, the opposition could put forward another candidate. But it is unclear whether Ms. Machado would willingly step aside, and if the opposition would rally around a single new candidate or split the vote, essentially handing Mr. Maduro the election. More

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    Elecciones primarias en Venezuela 2023: lo que hay que saber

    Diez candidatos de la oposición se están postulando para enfrentarse al presidente Nicolás Maduro en 2024. Se espera que María Corina Machado, una exdiputada, gane la contienda.Este domingo, se espera que un millón de venezolanos acudan a las urnas para elegir a un candidato de la oposición que se enfrente al presidente Nicolás Maduro en las elecciones presidenciales de 2024, una votación que podría ser crucial para el destino de un país que ha sufrido una década de crisis económica y autoritarismo gubernamental.Maduro llegó al poder en 2013 tras la muerte de Hugo Chávez, el fundador de la revolución inspirada en el socialismo que gobierna el país. Bajo la gestión de Maduro, Venezuela, que solía ser uno de los países más ricos de América Latina, ha sufrido un extraordinario colapso económico, lo que generó una crisis humanitaria que ha hecho que más de siete millones de personas huyan del país.Pero el martes, el gobierno de Maduro y la oposición firmaron un acuerdo diseñado para avanzar hacia unas elecciones libres y justas, lo que incluye permitirle a la oposición elegir un candidato para las elecciones presidenciales del próximo año.Sin embargo, las elecciones del domingo se realizarán sin apoyo gubernamental oficial. En su lugar, el proceso está siendo organizado por la sociedad civil, que instalará centros de votación en casas, parques y en las sedes de los partidos de oposición.La candidata que lidera las encuestas es María Corina Machado, una exdiputada de centroderecha, quien se ha autoproclamado como la mejor oportunidad del país hasta el momento para derrocar al gobierno de inspiración socialista que ha tenido el control del país desde 1999.A continuación, presentamos lo que hay que saber sobre las elecciones del domingo:¿Cómo están las relaciones entre Venezuela y Estados Unidos?Durante años, Estados Unidos ha venido implementando sanciones a algunos líderes venezolanos, pero el gobierno de Donald Trump las endureció de forma significativa en 2019, tras unas elecciones que fueron ampliamente percibidas como fraudulentas, en las que Maduro se declaró ganador.Desde hace tiempo, Maduro ha buscado el levantamiento de las sanciones que han asfixiado la economía, mientras que Estados Unidos y sus aliados en la oposición venezolana han querido que Maduro permita unas elecciones competitivas que pueda brindarles a sus rivales políticos una oportunidad legítima de ganar.El presidente Nicolás Maduro, con el mandatario colombiano, Gustavo Petro, el año pasado, han buscado el levantamiento de las sanciones económicas.Federico Rios para The New York TimesLa semana pasada se produjo el acercamiento más significativo de las relaciones entre Venezuela y Estados Unidos en años.El gobierno autoritario de Venezuela acordó aceptar a los migrantes venezolanos deportados desde Estados Unidos, firmó un acuerdo con los líderes de la oposición diseñado para avanzar hacia unas elecciones presidenciales libres y justas, y liberó a cinco presos políticos.A cambio, Estados Unidos acordó levantar algunas sanciones económicas impuestas a la industria petrolera de Venezuela, una vital fuente de ingresos para el gobierno de Maduro.¿Qué efecto tiene la flexibilización de las sanciones?El levantamiento de las sanciones anunciado esta semana le permite a la compañía petrolera estatal venezolana exportar petróleo y gas a Estados Unidos durante seis meses. Durante los últimos años, el gobierno venezolano había estado exportando petróleo a China y otros países con un descuento significativo.Si bien se espera que la medida sea de gran ayuda para las finanzas públicas de Venezuela, los analistas afirmaron que la infraestructura deficiente y la renuencia de algunos inversores externos a ingresar rápidamente al mercado venezolano presentan desafíos importantes.¿Qué impulsa estos avances?Entre los factores que impulsan esta oleada de nuevas políticas se encuentra el incremento de la importancia geopolítica de Venezuela.El país sudamericano tiene las mayores reservas comprobadas de petróleo del mundo, y existe un creciente interés de Estados Unidos en esas reservas en medio de la preocupación por un conflicto más amplio en el Medio Oriente y la guerra en Ucrania, las cuales han amenazado el acceso a los suministros mundiales de petróleo.Venezuela tiene las mayores reservas comprobadas de petróleo del mundo.Adriana Loureiro Fernandez para The New York TimesAunque se necesitarán años para que la mermada infraestructura de la industria petrolera de Venezuela se recupere, las reservas de petróleo del país podrían ser cruciales en el futuro.El gobierno de Biden también está cada vez más interesado en mejorar la situación económica en Venezuela para intentar mitigar el flujo de migrantes venezolanos que intentan cruzar a Estados Unidos.¿Podrían estas elecciones realmente conducir a un cambio en el liderazgo de Venezuela?Los expertos se muestran escépticos ante la posibilidad de que Maduro renuncie al poder de forma voluntaria, o de que permita que se celebren elecciones si existe la posibilidad de que no las gane.Su gobierno está siendo investigado por la Corte Penal Internacional por posibles crímenes de lesa humanidad, y Estados Unidos ha fijado una recompensa de 15 millones de dólares por su arresto para enfrentar cargos de tráfico de drogas. Abandonar la presidencia podría traducirse en largas condenas de cárcel para Maduro y sus asociados.Así que a pesar de la relevancia de los anuncios recientes, a algunos analistas les preocupa que Maduro esté jugando tanto con la oposición como con el gobierno de Estados Unidos, y que pueda al final terminar con todo lo que busca: flexibilización de las sanciones; al menos cierto reconocimiento internacional por su disposición hacia elecciones justas; y una victoria el año que viene que le permita retener el poder.Estados Unidos ha intentado prevenir que suceda eso dejando bien en claro que las sanciones pueden ser restituidas en cualquier momento.Sin embargo, algunos analistas afirmaron que eso podría ser difícil si las compañías se aprovechan del levantamiento de las sanciones y comienzan a invertir en Venezuela. Si eso sucede, podría ser complicado volver a instaurar las sanciones.¿Quién es María Corina Machado, la candidata líder?Machado es una política veterana que tiene el apodo de “la dama de hierro” debido a su relación adversa con los gobiernos de Maduro y Chávez. Es percibida por algunos simpatizantes como una persona valiente por permanecer en el país cuando muchos otros políticos han huido para evadir la persecución política.Sus propuestas de apertura al libre mercado y de reducir el rol del Estado le han hecho ganar una base leal de seguidores por diferentes clases sociales.La relación de confrontación de María Corina Machado con el presidente Nicolás Maduro y su predecesor, Hugo Chávez, le han valido el apodo de “la dama de hierro”.Adriana Loureiro Fernandez para The New York TimesPero durante la promoción de su candidatura, la campaña de Machado ha estado plagada de violencia y vigilancia gubernamental.Machado ha sido golpeada por personas que portaban carteles de Maduro y en un mitin en el que estuvo presente The New York Times le arrojaron sangre de animal. Ha sido seguida por la policía de inteligencia militar y suele sortear los controles policiales viajando en las motocicletas de sus simpatizantes.¿Podría Machado realmente ganar la presidencia?Las encuestas sugieren que Machado probablemente ganará las primarias, la cual tiene un total de 10 candidatos.El grupo de contendientes, los cuales representan una gama de diversas visiones ideológicas, incluye exgobernadores, activistas, profesores y abogados, aunque ninguno parece haber logrado avances suficientes como para representar una amenaza seria para Machado.Sin embargo, la pregunta más importante es si Machado, asumiendo que gane el domingo, será capaz de participar en las elecciones presidenciales de 2024.El gobierno de Maduro le ha prohibido a Machado postularse a la presidencia por 15 años, alegando que no completó su declaración de activos e ingresos cuando fue diputada. Este tipo de inhabilitaciones son una táctica común utilizada por Maduro para mantener a competidores fuertes fuera de las boletas de votación.A pesar de un acuerdo esta semana para avanzar hacia condiciones electorales competitivas, el gobierno de Maduro ha mostrado pocas señales de que permitirá que Machado se postule.El gobierno de Biden ha dejado claro que espera que Maduro restituya a los candidatos inhabilitados o se enfrente al restablecimiento de las sanciones.Si a Machado no le permiten postularse a la presidencia en 2024, la oposición podría presentar a otro candidato. Pero no se sabe con certeza si Machado saldría del proceso voluntariamente, si la oposición apoyaría a un solo nuevo candidato o si dividiría el apoyo, lo que en esencia le entregaría a Maduro las elecciones en bandeja de plata. More

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    Jack Smith’s Experience in The Hague and the Trump Investigations

    Donald Trump openly flatters foreign autocrats such as Vladimir V. Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in many ways Mr. Trump governed as authoritarians do around the globe: enriching himself, stoking ethnic hatreds, seeking personal control over the courts and the military, clinging to power at all costs. So it is especially fitting that he has been notified that he may soon be indicted on charges tied to alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election by an American prosecutor who is deeply versed in investigating the world’s worst tyrants and war criminals.Jack Smith, the Justice Department special counsel — who has already indicted Mr. Trump on charges of illegally retaining secret documents and obstructing justice — has a formidable record as a career federal prosecutor in Tennessee, New York and Washington. Yet he also has distinctive expertise from two high-stakes tours of duty as an international war crimes prosecutor: first at the International Criminal Court and then at a special legal institution investigating war crimes in Kosovo. For several momentous years in The Hague, he oversaw investigations of foreign government officials and militia members who stood accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.There are two competing visions of national and international justice at play in Mr. Smith’s investigation of Mr. Trump. One is the lofty principle that even presidents and prime ministers must answer to the law. The other is the reality that such powerful leaders can try to secure their own impunity by decrying justice as a sham and rallying their followers, threatening instability and violent backlash. These tensions have defined the history of international war crimes prosecutions; they marked Mr. Smith’s achievements in court; they are already at play in Mr. Trump’s attempts to thwart the rule of law.Start with the ideals. The United States championed two international military tribunals held at Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II, which put senior German and Japanese leaders on trial for aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Henry L. Stimson, the U.S. secretary of war, privately exhorted Franklin Delano Roosevelt that even Nazi war criminals should be given a “well-defined procedure” including “at least the rudimentary aspects of the Bill of Rights.”Both the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials convicted senior leaders for atrocities committed while in government, treating their deeds not as acts of state but as personal crimes punishable by law. After the Cold War, these principles of legal punishment for the world’s worst criminals were revived with United Nations tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as special courts for East Timor, Sierra Leone and elsewhere.Mr. Smith hewed to the ideal of individual criminal responsibility as the prosecutor for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, which was created under U.S. and European pressure to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity from 1998 to 2000 related to Kosovo’s struggle for independence from Serbia. Although part of Kosovo’s legal system, the institution is headquartered in The Hague and staffed by international judges and personnel — which is how Mr. Smith, a U.S. citizen, wound up serving as its specialist prosecutor.In June 2020, his office revealed that it was seeking to indict Hashim Thaci, then Kosovo’s popular president, who was on his way to the White House for a summit with Serbia convened by the Trump administration. Mr. Thaci, a former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla leader, returned home, later resigning as president and being detained in The Hague in order to face several counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in an ongoing trial that could last for years.It is always difficult and risky to prosecute national leaders with some popularity among their people. Savvy dictators will often secure a promise of amnesty as the price for a transition of power, which is why a furtive impunity — such as that promulgated in Chile by Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military government in 1978 — is more common than spectacular trials such as Nuremberg or Tokyo. In order to impose justice on Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the Allies had to commit to a devastating policy of unconditional surrender, which meant that German and Japanese war criminals could not negotiate for their own necks. Even so, the Truman administration quietly undercut that pledge of unconditional surrender for Emperor Hirohito, fearing that the Japanese might fight on if he was prosecuted as a war criminal. The Truman administration left the emperor securely in the Imperial Palace while his prime ministers and generals were tried and convicted by an Allied international military tribunal in Tokyo.At an earlier point in his career, from 2008 to 2010, Mr. Smith worked as the investigation coordinator in the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court, the permanent international war crimes tribunal based in The Hague. Although 123 countries from Afghanistan to Zambia have joined the I.C.C., the tribunal was a bugbear for the Trump administration; Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, vowed to let it “die on its own,” while his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, reviled it as a “renegade, unlawful, so-called court.”Anyone working at the I.C.C. must understand how constrained and weak the court actually is. In 2009 and 2010, the I.C.C. issued arrest warrants for Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charging him with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the Darfur region; he is still at large, even after being overthrown. When a prominent Kenyan politician, Uhuru Kenyatta, was charged with crimes against humanity after ethnic violence in the wake of his country’s 2007 presidential election, he decried the I.C.C. as a neocolonial violation of Kenya’s sovereignty. In 2013 he was narrowly elected president of Kenya. In 2014, the I.C.C. prosecutor dropped the charges against Mr. Kenyatta, fuming that Kenya’s government had obstructed evidence and intimidated witnesses.From Kenya to Kosovo, Mr. Smith presumably knows all too well how an indicted politician can mobilize his loyalists to defy and obstruct a prosecution. When Mr. Thaci’s trial started in The Hague in April, some Kosovars rallied in support of a leader seen by them as a heroic guerrilla fighter against Serbian oppression. Mr. Smith’s office has complained that Mr. Thaci and other suspects were trying to obstruct and undercut the work of prosecutors, as well as convicting two backers of the Kosovo Liberation Army for disseminating files stolen from the office.Mr. Trump is already instinctively following a similar playbook of bluster and intimidation — even though he is not facing an international tribunal, but the laws of the United States. He has compared the F.B.I. agents investigating him to the Gestapo and smeared Mr. Smith as “deranged,” while crudely warning an Iowa radio show that it would be “very dangerous” to jail him since he has “a tremendously passionate group of voters.”Yet Mr. Trump will find that Mr. Smith has dealt with the likes of him — and worse — before. The American prosecutor is well equipped to pursue the vision of a predecessor Robert H. Jackson, the eloquent Supreme Court justice who served as the U.S. chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, who declared in his opening address there: “Civilization asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance.”Gary J. Bass is the author of “The Blood Telegram” and the forthcoming “Judgment at Tokyo: World War II on Trial and the Making of Modern Asia.”The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More