Sunday, 23 June

US-Israel: Netanyahu vows to reject any US sanctions on army units

World News
Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to reject any sanctions on the country's military, after reports that the US plans to cut aid to one unit.

"I will fight it with all my strength," the prime minister said on Sunday.

Earlier, the Axios news site said the US would target Israel's Netzah Yehuda battalion over alleged human rights violations in the occupied West Bank.

The BBC understands any move would come under a US ban on aid to foreign units credibly implicated in violations.

When asked last week about reports that US military aid to the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) units could be cut over allegations of human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: "I've made determinations; you can expect to see them in the days ahead".

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 about sanctions against the battalion, the IDF is not aware of the issue," the military is quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. "The IDF works and will continue to work to investigate any unusual event in a practical manner and according to law."

Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant called on the US to withdraw its intention to sanction Netzah Yehuda, saying the world was watching the ties between the US and Israel more closely than ever.

"Any attempt to criticise an entire unit casts a heavy shadow on the actions of the IDF," a statement from Mr Gallant read, adding "this is not the right path for partners and friends".

"If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF, I will fight it," Mr Netanyahu said

On Saturday, Axios cited three US sources with knowledge of the issue as saying that Mr Blinken was expected to announce measures against Netzah Yehuda within days.

It said the move would be over alleged abuses in the West Bank, including one incident in which a Palestinian-American man, 80-year-old Omar Assad, died after being bound and gagged by Israeli soldiers during a search in the West Bank in January 2022.

At the time the US called for a "thorough criminal investigation and full accountability" in the case.

The IDF later said it regretted Mr Assad's death and that the Netzah Yehuda commander would be "reprimanded"over it. It added that two soldiers would be barred from serving in senior positions for two years, but would not be prosecuted. It said Mr Assad's death had been caused by a pre-existing medical condition.

Mr Assad's family, many of whom are based in the US, condemned the decision to close the case.

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

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

Last year, a group of US officials known as the "Israel-Leahy vetting forum" looked into at least a dozen allegations made against Israeli units, including the Netzah Yehuda battalion, a former senior US official told the BBC.

"We believed that in most cases, these were un-remediated - in other words, the perpetrators had not been properly held to account," said Josh Paul, former director of the State Department's Political-Military Affairs bureau, which oversees US arms transfers.

"When we tried to advance these recommendations to the secretary [of state] we were never able to get them through the political level," he added.

Mr Paul resigned from his position in November in protest at what he saw as a lack of accountability over weapons transfers to Israel. Asked whether the recommendations he mentioned had since reached Mr Blinken's desk, he cited the recent media reports suggesting they had.

Formed in 1999, Netzah Yehuda is a special men-only unit where ultra-Orthodox Jews serve.

Earlier this week, the State Department imposed sanctions on Israeli far-right activist Ben Zion Gopstein. It said his organisation, Lehava, had "engaged in destabilising violence affecting the West Bank".






Source: BBC