US expected to sanction Israeli military unit over alleged rights abuses

Israeli prime minister says he will fight any sanctions targeting Israeli military units for alleged rights violations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would fight against any sanctions being imposed on Israeli military units for alleged rights violations, after a United States media outlet reported that Washington was planning such a step.

The US-based Axios news site on Saturday reported that Washington was planning to impose sanctions on Israel’s Netzah Yehuda battalion, which has operated in the occupied West Bank, though the Israeli military said it was not aware of any such measures.

Israeli media also identified the unit expected to be targeted as Netzah Yehuda – an infantry battalion founded roughly a quarter of a century ago to incorporate ultra-Orthodox Jewish men into the military.

On Friday, the US announced a new series of sanctions linked to Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, in the latest sign of growing US frustration with the policies of Netanyahu, whose coalition government relies on settler parties.

“If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the [Israeli army] – I will fight it with all my strength,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said in a statement on Sunday that he spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and asked him to reconsider the matter.

Gantz said any such sanctions would be a mistake because they would harm Israel’s legitimacy during a time of war.

Blinken said on Friday that he made “determinations” regarding accusations that Israel violated a set of US laws that prohibit providing military assistance to individuals or security force units that commit gross violations of human rights.

Blinken, without providing details, said his department was conducting investigations under a law that prohibits sending military aid to foreign security units that violate human rights with impunity.

He then added: “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.”

Killing ‘for no real reason’

Separately, on Sunday, Israeli Labour Party leader Merav Michaeli called for dismantling the Netzah Yehuda army unit, saying it is killing Palestinians “for no real reason”.

“The sanctions are an acknowledgment of the reality and an understanding that Israel’s conduct in the territories cannot continue,” Michaeli said on X.

“The violent and corrupt conduct of the Netzah Yehuda battalion and those around it has been known for years, and nothing has been done to stop it.”

Earlier this week, the ProPublica investigative news organisation reported that a special US Department of State panel known as the Israel Leahy Vetting Forum had recommended months ago to Blinken that multiple Israeli military and police units be disqualified from receiving US aid, after allegations of human rights violations.

The incidents that were the subject of allegations took place in the occupied West Bank and mostly occurred before Israel’s war on Gaza began on October 7, the outlet said.

Before the Gaza war, violence had already been surging in the West Bank, and it has risen since with frequent Israeli military raids, Israeli settler rampages in Palestinian villages and Palestinian attacks on Israeli forces and settlers.

The Israeli military said the Netzah Yehuda battalion is an active combat unit that operates according to the principles of international law.

The Israeli army said that “following publications about sanctions against the battalion”, it was “not aware of the issue”.

“If a decision is made on the matter it will be reviewed,” it said, pledging to “continue to work to investigate any unusual event in a practical manner and according to law”.

In 2022, Netzah Yehuda’s battalion commander was reprimanded and two officers were dismissed over the death of an elderly Palestinian-American who the unit’s soldiers had detained in the West Bank, an incident that stirred concern in Washington.

There have been several other incidents in recent years, some captured on video, in which Netzah Yehuda soldiers were accused of or charged with abusing Palestinian detainees.

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