Israel aghast as US said poised to sanction notorious IDF unit; Netanyahu: ‘A moral low’

Report says Blinken to target Netzah Yehuda for violence against West Bank Palestinians; Ben Gvir: I’ll absorb battalion into police; unit was moved north in 2020 after multiple incidents

TOI Staff, April 20, 2024

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

The Biden administration is slated to announce sanctions against the IDF’s Netzah Yehuda battalion for alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank, the Axios news site reported on Saturday. It would be the first time the US has ever taken such a step.

The battalion has been at the center of several controversies in the past connected to right-wing extremism and violence against Palestinians, notably including the 2022 death of Omar As’ad, a 78-year-old Palestinian-American who died after being detained, handcuffed, blindfolded, and later abandoned in near-freezing conditions by soldiers of the battalion.

Israel moved the unit out of the West Bank in December 2022 — though it denied it did so due to soldiers’ behavior — and it has since served mostly in the country’s north.

The reported US plan drew a scathing response from Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The IDF must not be sanctioned!” he wrote on X. “I’ve been working in recent weeks against the sanctioning of Israeli citizens, including in my conversations with the American administration.

“At a time when our soldiers are fighting terrorist monsters, the intention to issue sanctions against a unit in the IDF is the height of absurdity and a moral low,” he added, committing to fight the move.

Centrist war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz joined the criticism, saying the infantry unit was “an integral part of the IDF” and was bound by military and international law. He added that Israel has “strong and independent” courts capable of dealing with alleged violations.

“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 said, while pledging to “take action so this decision does not pass.”

The expressions of surprise and anger in Israel came shortly after leaders voiced profound gratitude to the US after the US House passed a major military aid package for the Jewish state.

Citing unnamed American sources, the Axios report said the sanctions would bar the transfer of US weapons to the largely ultra-Orthodox infantry unit and prevent its soldiers from training with US forces or taking part in any activities with US funding, under the Leahy Laws.

Authored by then-senator Patrick Leahy in the late 1990s, the laws prohibit providing military assistance to individuals or security force units that commit gross violations of human rights and have not been brought to justice.

One of the sources was quoted saying that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had decided not to sanction other military and police units that the administration was investigating, as it had seen adjustments in their conduct.

An administration official told the news site that the decision to sanction Netzah Yehuda was based on research done before October 7 that examined incidents in the West Bank.

The report came days after ProPublica said a State Department panel recommended that Blinken sanction several Israeli units for alleged rights abuses, including Netzah Yehuda.

Blinken himself said Friday that he had made “determinations” regarding accusations that Israeli forces had violated the Leahy Laws.

Asked at a news conference in Italy about reports that the State Department has recommended the cutting off of military aid to certain Israeli units over possible human rights violations in the West Bank, Blinken did not outright confirm the reports, but promised results very soon.

“I think you’re referring to the so-called Leahy Law and our work under that,” he responds. “So this is a very important law. And it’s one that we apply across the board. And 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. And I think it’s fair to say that you’ll see results very soon. I made determinations. You can expect to see them in the days ahead,” Blinken said, without elaborating.

Netzah Yehuda was created so that ultra-Orthodox and other religious soldiers can serve without feeling they are compromising their beliefs. The soldiers do not interact with female troops to the same extent as other servicemen and are given additional time for prayer and religious study.

Members of the unit have been involved in multiple controversial and violent incidents and have also been convicted in the past of torturing and abusing Palestinian prisoners.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, the US has issued three rounds of sanctions against settler individuals for violence against Palestinians. The latest round was issued on Friday and included the leader of the far-right group Lehava, Benzi Gopstein, who is a close ally of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

Ben Gvir said Saturday that imposing “sanctions on our soldiers is a red line.”

Describing the Axios report as “extremely grave,” Ben Gvir stated that he “expects Defense Minister Yoav Gallant not to submit to American dictates” and that the members of Netzah Yehuda “must be fully supported.”

“If there is not anybody at the Defense Ministry who will back up the battalion as required, I will ask to absorb them into the Israel Police and the Ministry of National Security,” continued Ben Gvir, who added that he would be willing to integrate the battalion into the Border Police.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said imposing sanctions “while Israel is fighting for its existence is utter madness.”

“This is part of a planned move to force the State of Israel to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state and to forsake Israel’s security,” Smotrich charged in a post on X.

April 21, 2024 | 8 Comments »

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8 Comments / 8 Comments

  1. Smotrich got the U.S. to render the last round of sanctions toothless by refusing to sign the waiver that protected the banks from being sued for dealing with the PA banks. The way to deal with this is to make such waivers renewable on a monthly basis.

  2. I agree with Peloni1986 comment on this outrage. Sill, I think the singling out of the haredi batallion was no accident. It was probably drafted for the State Department people by their Israeli collaborators, who hate the haredim and always have.

  3. Truly Outrageous. Netanyahu was right to denounce this treacherous move. As Netanyah said, this The haredi battalion has fought courageously for the state as have all IDF batallions. It has been subject to no more human rights complaints than other IDF batallions. It has only been singled out for condemnation because it is haredi. By the way, this is the end of efforts, which had become increasingly successful, to increase haredi enlistment in the IDF and through this haredi integration into Israeli society. That is probably one of the State Department’s objectives.

    I am a little uncertain about this, but I believe the State Department has also sanctioned an IDF unit that has been battling the terrorists in Judea-Samaria, and is continuing to fight them at the present moment.

    The SD has also sanctioned a large number of supposedly aggressive “settlers.”
    It accuses them of attacking and murdering poor innocent Palestinians without any provocation whatsover. The actual provocation, the brutal murder of a 14 year old boy herdsman, was dismissed as something that had not happened at all. Either that, or it was a “false flag” operation perpetrated by settlers against one of their own,

    If the Israeli government had any balls, it would take strong counter-sanctions against the U.S. That would include expelling anyone from the U.S. embassy involved in intelligence work, and closing down completely the U.S. Jerusalem consulate for the Palistinians in Jerusalem; Publicly name the Iranian agents in the U.S. government in Washington, including Blinken; appeal to Israel’s friends in government to refuse to provide any funds for the State Department until it has been thoroughly purged of Iranian influence; summon all of the State, DoD, CIA and Homeland security Iranian double agents identifies by Israel or by private American investigators to explain themselves to Congressional investigating committees.

    Unfortunately, in the real world the Israelis don’t have the balls to do any of this.

  4. The fact that they are citing this one unit which is a Heredi unit should not blind us to the real purpose of this outrage. Understand that the White House can only leverage the aid granted to Israel in the recent legislation thru the use of enacting the Leahy Law. Hence, we should not be deluded into believing that this is simply related to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion. Indeed, this is a first shot across the bow, demonstrating the will of the American regime to extend these sanctions so as to further control Israeli actions. Israel must at long last end its dependence on the aid.

  5. Blinks response reads like something Kameltoes would say. A whole lot of bupkas. Blah, blah, and more etc.

  6. I agree completely – placing sanctions against an IDF unit in a time of war is foolish and wrong. But then, Obiden hates Israel and wishes her harm. All part of a plan.

  7. Insanity and American betrayal are growing. Israel must be strong and not obey American pressure. Ben Gvir and Smotrich are strong. They are right in their decision to fight back.