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U.S. reviewing sanctions for IDF unit Netzah Yehuda, over West Bank human rights violations

WorldU.S. reviewing sanctions for IDF unit Netzah Yehuda, over West Bank human rights violations

The Biden administration is reviewing whether to restrict aid to an Israeli military battalion after determining that it was one of three battalions credibly implicated in gross human rights violations against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank prior to Hamas‘ Oct. 7 attack, according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

Two of those Israel Defense Forces units will continue to receive U.S. military assistance after accountability measures by the Israeli government, but whether the third IDF unit will face restrictions of U.S. military aid is still under review, according to the letter.

Israeli officials have been pressing Washington in public and private not to impose the restrictions on the unit, fearing the unprecedented move would cast a shadow over its military as a whole. The U.S. has issued growing criticism of its ally’s conduct in the Gaza Strip, while protests have mounted across American college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war.

A 1997 act known as the Leahy Law restricts U.S. assistance to any security force unit of a foreign country if the unit is found to have committed a “Gross Violation of Human Rights,” but an exception can be made if the secretary of state determines effective steps are being taken to bring those in the unit responsible to justice.

It is named after its primary sponsor, former Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who spent nearly half a century in the Senate.

The Leahy Law determinations, which have not yet been made public, were discussed in the letter obtained by NBC News from Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., ahead of the vote on a supplemental aid bill to Israel.

The letter was first reported by ABC News.

“For one IDF unit, I determined that there has not been effective remediation to date,” Blinken wrote. “This unit has been acknowledged by the Israeli government to have engaged in conduct inconsistent with IDF rules and, as a result, was transferred from the West Bank to the Golan Heights in 2022. The Israeli government has presented new information regarding the status of the unit and we will engage on identifying a path to effective remediation for this unit.”

A U.S. official confirmed to NBC News that the unit is Netzah Yehuda, a West Bank battalion comprised of ultra-orthodox Israeli soldiers, which has been under review by the State Department since 2022.

NBC News has reached out to the IDF for comment.

The United States is required to consult with Israel on actions that fall under the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, but if the government does not take the appropriate accountability actions required under Leahy laws there would still be a restriction on U.S. assistance, according to a source familiar with the process who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two civilian units alleged to be responsible for incidents of gross human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank were also under review, but will continue to be eligible for U.S. security assistance after it was determined they had undergone effective remediation.

IDF soldiers
The Israeli military’s campaign in Gaza has drawn growing international condemnation.Menahem Kahana / AFP via Getty Images

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

Israeli leaders have condemned the expected move.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he “will fight against it with all my strength,” and described it as “the height of absurdity and a moral low” while Israeli soldiers were fighting Hamas.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also called Blinken and U.S. Ambassador Jack Lew in an attempt to stop the sanctions. Gallant said that “any attempt to criticize an entire unit casts a heavy shadow on the actions of the IDF” as a whole.

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