update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

US reportedly intends to sanction IDF unit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls the measure against the IDF’s haredi battalion Netzah Yehuda “the height of absurdity and a moral low.”

U.S. President Joe Biden, joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is briefed on the terrorist assault on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, in the Oval Office of the White House.  Credit: Cameron Smith/White House.
U.S. President Joe Biden, joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is briefed on the terrorist assault on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, in the Oval Office of the White House. Credit: Cameron Smith/White House.

Israeli government officials reacted forcefully on Saturday to reports that the Biden administration intends to sanction the Israel Defense Forces battalion Netzah Yehuda for alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians.

“Sanctions must not be imposed on the Israel Defense Forces,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in Hebrew on social media. 

“In recent weeks, I have been working against the imposition of sanctions on Israeli citizens, including in my conversations with senior U.S. government officials,” Netanyahu added.

“At a time when our soldiers are fighting terrorist monsters, the intention to impose a sanction on a unit in the IDF is the height of absurdity and a moral low,” the prime minister added. “The government I head will act by all means against these moves.”

If Washington sanctions the IDF unit, it would be the first time the United States has taken such a step against the Israeli military.

Netzah Yehuda is an exclusively male, haredi battalion which, until late 2022, served in Judea and Samaria. It has faced accusations of abuses, most notably in the 2022 death of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar As’ad, who died after he was initially detained by the battalion. 

It was reported that he died after being abandoned while still in restraints, drawing criticism from the U.S. State Department.

Under the reported sanctions, Netzah Yehuda, which now serves in the Golan Heights, would be barred from receiving U.S. weaponry, training with U.S. soldiers or taking part in any activities that the United States funds. 

The restrictions would fall under the banner of the Leahy Laws, which prohibit U.S. military assistance to individuals or units of security forces that commit gross violations of human rights and have not been held accountable.

Benny Gantz, an Israeli minister without portfolio who is part of the War Cabinet, also criticized the reported sanctions. Writing in Hebrew on social media, he called the battalion “an integral part of the IDF,” which falls under the jurisdiction of “strong and independent” courts that are capable of dealing with alleged violations and abuses.

“We have great respect for our American friends, but imposing sanctions on the unit is a dangerous precedent and sends the wrong message to our shared enemies at a time of war,” Gantz wrote. He pledged that he would “take action so this decision does not pass.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hinted at a weekend news conference in Capri, Italy that sanctions were imminent. 

“On Israel, there are reports that your department has made recommendations to cut military aid to certain Israeli units for possible human rights violations in the West Bank, before Oct. 7. Will you take action on those recommendations,” asked Olivia Gazis, of CBS News.

“I think you’re referring to the so-called Leahy Law and our work under that. So, this is a very important law, and it’s one that we apply across the board,” Blinken said. “When we’re doing these investigations, these inquiries, it’s something that takes time, that has to be done very carefully both in collecting the facts and analyzing them—and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

“I think it’s fair to say that you’ll see results very soon,” Blinken said. “I’ve made determinations; you can expect to see them in the days ahead.”

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