newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Blinken: No actions taken against IDF units accused of breaching US law

“This will have no impact on our support for Israel’s ability to defend itself against Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah or other threats,” the U.S. secretary of state wrote to House Speaker Mike Johnson.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts an International Women’s Day Reception at the Department of State in Washington, March 8, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts an International Women’s Day Reception at the Department of State in Washington, March 8, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

The U.S. State Department is engaged with Israel to find a path to “remediation” for an Israel Defense Forces unit that it has determined is credibly accused of “gross human-rights violations,” according to a letter JNS viewed.

Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, stated in the letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Saturday that it is his assessment that some IDF units might be in violation of U.S. law, but that would not affect U.S. military support to Israel.

“The determinations I made only pertain to three units of the Israel Defense Forces, as well as two civilian authority units, alleged to be responsible for incidents of gross human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank,” Blinken wrote.

“None of the cases involve Israel’s operations against Hamas in Gaza or against Iran or its proxies, and all cases long pre-date Oct. 7, 2023,” Blinken added.

Under the so-called Leahy Law, named for former U.S. senator Patrick Leahy, the U.S. State and Defense Departments cannot provide assistance to a security force unit of a foreign country if the secretary of state receives credible evidence that it has committed gross human rights violations.

The law provides an exception if the secretary determines that the unit is taking steps to bring the members of the unit responsible to justice—a process known as “remediation.”

Blinken said that of three IDF units that he determined were credibly accused of violations, two have undertaken remediation. A third battalion has not.

“The Israeli government has presented new information regarding the status of the unit and we will engage on identifying a path to effective remediation for this unit,” Blinken wrote in the letter that JNS viewed. “But this will have no impact on our support for Israel’s ability to defend itself against Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah or other threats.”

Blinken does not name the unit, but his description of it matches the Netzach Yehuda Infantry Battalion, an exclusively male, haredi battalion that, until late 2022, served in the Jordan Valley and Samaria.

The unit has faced accusations of abuse, most notably in the case of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar As’ad, who died in 2022 after the unit detained him.

Johnson requested the formal response from Blinken after the secretary made comments at an April 19 press conference implying that the U.S. would withhold aid from certain Israeli military units, a spokesperson for the House speaker told JNS.

“Following Secretary Blinken’s comments, the speaker demanded an explanation from the administration and assurances regarding the timely delivery of the military aid to Israel which the House passed Saturday,” the spokesperson said.

“On Saturday, Secretary Blinken sent Speaker Johnson a letter confirming that the State Department’s determination will have ‘no impact’ on funding and will not impede U.S. support for Israel’s ‘defense from attacks or threats from Iran, Hezbollah or other proxies.’”

In the letter, Blinken denied that the Biden administration was considering withholding U.S. assistance to any other IDF unit at this time.

“Contrary to some media reports, no other Leahy determinations regarding Israel have been made,” Blinken wrote. “The president and I remain fully committed to Israel’s defense and security.”

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