US-Israel: Netanyahu to fight any sanctions on army units

  • By Tom Bateman
  • BBC News, Washington

Image source, AFP via Getty Images

Legend, Established in 1999, the Netzah Yehuda Battalion is a special male-only unit serving ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to fight any sanctions against the country’s military following reports that the United States was considering cutting aid to one unit.

“I will fight it with all my strength,” he said on Sunday.

Earlier, the Axios news site said the United States would target the Israeli Netzah Yehuda Battalion over alleged human rights violations in the occupied West Bank.

The BBC understands that any measures would be subject to the US ban on assisting foreign units credibly implicated in violations.

Asked last week about reports that U.S. military aid to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) units may be cut due to allegations of human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “I made decisions; can expect to see them in the coming days.”

Washington – Israel’s main ally – has never suspended aid to an IDF unit before.

The Israeli military said Netzah Yehuda was operating in accordance with international law.

“Following publications reporting sanctions against the battalion, the IDF is not aware of the problem,” the army was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency. “The Israeli military is working and will continue to work to investigate any unusual events in a practical manner and in accordance with the law.”

Legend, “If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on an IDF unit, I will fight them,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

On Saturday, Axios cited three U.S. sources with knowledge of the matter as saying that Blinken is expected to announce action against Netzah Yehuda within days.

He said the move would focus on alleged abuses in the West Bank, including an incident in which a Palestinian-American, Omar Assad, 80, died after being bound and gagged by Israeli soldiers during a West Bank search. in 2017. January 2022.

At the time, the United States called for a “thorough criminal investigation and full accountability” in the matter.

The Israeli military later said it regretted Mr. Assad’s death and that Netzah commander Yehuda would be “reprimanded” over the death. He added that two soldiers would not be allowed to hold high positions for two years, but would not be prosecuted. He said Mr. Assad’s death was due to a pre-existing health problem.

Mr. Assad’s family, many of whom are based in the United States, condemned the decision to dismiss the case.

All the alleged violations took place before Hamas’s attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip on October 7.

Any decision barring an IDF unit from receiving U.S. military assistance would be made under the “Leahy Law,” sponsored in 1997 by then-Senator Patrick Leahy. It prevents U.S. funding or training from being used for foreign military units credibly implicated in gross human rights violations.

Last year, a group of U.S. officials known as the “Israel-Leahy Verification Forum” examined at least a dozen allegations made against Israeli units, including the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, a former senior official said American on the BBC.

“We believed that in most cases there had been no resolution — in other words, the perpetrators had not been properly held accountable,” said Josh Paul, former director of the Office of Political Affairs -military personnel from the State Department, which oversees arms transfers to the United States. .

“When we tried to take these recommendations to the secretary (of state), we were never able to get them to the political level,” he added.

Mr. Paul resigned from his post in November to protest what he saw as a lack of accountability over arms transfers to Israel. Asked whether the recommendations he mentioned had since reached Mr. Blinken’s desk, he cited recent media reports suggesting that was the case.

Established in 1999, Netzah Yehuda is a special unit reserved for men, where ultra-Orthodox Jews serve.

Earlier this week, the State Department imposed sanctions on Israeli far-right activist Ben Zion Gopstein. He said his organization, Lehava, had “engaged in destabilizing violence affecting the West Bank.”

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