US considering sanctions against other IDF units for alleged rights violations – source

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Israeli soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda Battalion patrol near the Israel-Gaza border, October 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Israeli soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda Battalion patrol near the Israel-Gaza border, October 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The US is considering sanctions against other Israeli military and police units alleged to have committed human rights violations against Palestinians in addition to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, which the Biden administration will be designating this week, two US sources tell The Times of Israel.

The State Department has been probing Netzah Yehuda and some of the other units in the Israeli security forces for well over a year, due to alleged human rights violations.

In the case of Netzah Yehuda, the IDF in December 2022 decided to move the infantry unit made up largely of ultra-Orthodox nationalists out of the West Bank so they would no longer be in contact with Palestinians. But no steps were taken to hold specific soldiers accountable for the repeated incidents of misconduct against Palestinians that ran rampant in Netzah Yehuda, a US official says, explaining the unprecedented decision to move ahead with sanctioning an Israeli military unit.

The practical impact of the sanctions may be limited, though. They will bar Israel from using US military aid to purchase weapons for Netzah Yehuda, but Israel could still use its own funds to purchase weapons for the beleaguered battalion, a second US source says.

However, as with the sanctions that the US began imposing against violent settlers, the US source predicted that other Western countries would follow Washington’s lead in targeting units that rights groups have found to repeatedly and unjustly target Palestinians.

While much of the focus is on conduct taking place in the West Bank, the source speculates that probes will also be opened into units operating in Gaza, given the flood of videos that IDF soldiers have posted on social media throughout the war against Hamas that show them violating the IDF’s code of conduct.

Israeli soldiers from Netzah Yehuda Battalion and family members attend a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 17, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

The US source notes that the Biden administration is differentiating between its disapproval of Israel’s actions in the West Bank while continuing its robust support of Israel more broadly, including through the $14 billion aid package approved by Congress over the weekend.

The Walla news site, which broke the story on the impending US sanctions, notes that this was not an issue of Israel being singled out by the Biden administration. Around the same time that the US began probing Netzah Yehuda, it also started investigating a special forces unit in the Australian army over allegations that it had carried out human rights abuses in Afghanistan. But unlike the IDF, the Australian army took significant steps against the unit, including the criminal prosecution of one of the unit’s soldiers.

The sanctions are being levied under what is known as the Leahy Law, which prohibits providing military assistance to individuals or security force units that commit gross violations of human rights and have not been brought to justice. Sanctioned units are also banned from participating in joint military drills with the US Army.

While the State Department looks into thousands of allegations of Leahy Law violations each year, it created a special panel known as the Israel Leahy Vetting Forum that exclusively vets allegations against the IDF and Israel Police due to the political sensitivity of the issue.

ProPublica reported last week that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sat on the panel’s recommendation regarding Netzah Yehuda for months ostensibly concerned about the political ramifications of the move.

However, the US official says the administration was not avoiding this week’s announcement and was long planning on tying it to the State Department’s human rights report, which will be released this week.

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