US To Punish Israeli Battalion For Human Right Abuses But Provides Massive Aid To IDF: What Is Pentagon Planning?

The US President has decided to punish Israel’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion, the Israel Defence Forces, and police units for human rights abuses in the West Bank.

Ukraine ‘Pulls Out’ US Abrams Tanks From The Frontline As Kyiv Loses 5 MBTs In Less Than 2 Months – US

Is it doing so to please Iran, with which it is engaged in secret talks—according to reports in prominent US circles—to find a peaceful solution and end the Iran-US relations stalemate? Surely, US President Biden will not allow the process to be derailed.

Two US sources told The Times of Israel (April 21, 2024) that Biden’s administration was slated to designate this week the Netzah Yehuda Battalion and other Israeli army and police units alleged to have committed human rights abuses.

The Middle East Crisis of the same date reported that a unit of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) is facing US sanctions over its treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, even as Congress voted for USD 26 billion in new emergency aid to Israel. The Israeli daily Haaretz said that in addition to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, the US was considering similar moves against other police and military units.

Three days ago, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that he had made “determinations” over the claim that Israel had violated the Leahy law, which prohibits the provision of military assistance to police or security units that commit a gross violation of human rights. This law has also been resorted to in several cases earlier.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) unit, namely the Netzah Yehuda battalion, part of the Kfir Brigade, was set up originally in 1999 to accommodate the religious sentiments of recruits from the ultra-orthodox and national religious communities, including those from extremist settlements primarily deployed at sensitive places.

It is said that the State Department has been investigating several Israeli security units, including police and military, for alleged violations. The accusation, according to known sources, is that the soldiers of the unit were involved in the death of a 78-year-old US citizen, Omar Assad, who died of a heart attack in 2022 after being “detained, bound, gagged and then abandoned” by members of the unit. The State Department demanded a criminal investigation, as it was a high-profile case.

Israel’s Reaction

The State Department received a dossier in December on violating the Leahy law. The news that an IDF battalion was facing sanctions prompted a sharp response from senior Israeli figures, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He wrote on X, “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.”

Benny Gantz, a senior member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet and former IDF chief, said, “The Netzah Yehuda battalion is an inseparable part of the Israeli Defence Forces. It is subject to military law and is responsible for operating in full compliance with international law. The state of Israel has a strong independent judicial system that evaluates meticulously any claim of a violation or deviation from IDF orders and code of conduct and will continue to do so.”

Politics & Polemics

Close monitoring of the fighting in the region and policy parameters will show that Washington has been on the horns of a dilemma from the time Hamas conducted the carnage in a village in southern Israel on October 7, 2023.

Everybody knew that the real culprit was Iran, and the saner societies worldwide expected some muscle-flexing by Washington. That was not to be.

US President Joe Biden said Washington had not found any evidence of Iran’s involvement in the carnage. This statement was endorsed by the Secretary of State. But it had no takers in Israel.

President Biden made it very clear that the US would not fight on the side of Israel if war broke out between Iran and Israel on a full scale.

This statement came soon after Iran launched a massive 300 missile-drone attack on Israel. Whether owing to the declining influence of the US in the Middle East or over-caring for the outcome of the impending presidential elections, President Biden chose to put pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister first to accept a cease-fire in Gaza.

When PM Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the proposal, Biden then warned him not to launch an attack on Rafah.

What is curious is that Joe Biden was still harping on ‘no war with Iran’ even when Tehran fired nearly 300 missiles and drones on Israel.

Rumors are doing the rounds in prominent circles that Washington has engaged Iran in secret talks to find a peaceful solution to ticklish questions bedeviling Iran-US relations and President Biden will not allow the process to be derailed.

In diplomatic culture, talks between adversarial states do not come to a standstill. Track II diplomacy is never lost sight of. However, in the backdrop of soured Iran-US relations, the lesson for the US policy planners would be to take each step with utmost caution.

But if Washington has gained any experience in dealing with Iran, it should desist from trying it once more. It will be a loser if it does.

Netzah Yehuda training exercise
File Image: Netzah Yehuda training exercise

Democrats’ Dilemma

President Joe Biden’s ruling party was in a dilemma the day Hamas struck at Israel. The political establishment and the deep state of the US (a type of government made up of potentially secret and unauthorized networks of power operating independently of a state’s political leadership in pursuit of their agenda and goals) pulled in opposite directions.

The impending presidential elections in the US weigh heavily on the political psyche of American political planners. However, the commitment of the American deep state to the perpetuation of a Jewish state will not allow the demoralization of the military or police units on flimsy cases of violation of human rights.

Viewpoints can be allowed reasonable space in terms of policy perceptions, but in security matters, the deep state has always maintained its supremacy.

In sanctioning USD 26 billion by way of aid to Israel, the US Congress has demonstrated its strong determination to counter global terrorism.