Netanyahu calls potential US sanctions on Israeli military unit ‘absurd’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expected to make decision soon on alleged rights abuses by Israeli military unit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized reported US plans to sanction an Israeli military unit under investigation for human rights violations against Palestinians in a Saturday post on X (formerly Twitter).

The Netzah Yehuda Battalion is a special Israel Defense Forces (IDF) unit primarily composed of ultra-Orthodox Jews. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to announce sanctions on the unit for alleged human rights abuses committed in the West Bank, according to a Saturday report from US news site Axios citing three anonymous US sources.

Netanyahu condemned the idea of sanctioning the IDF in a Saturday post, adding that he has been in contact with US officials to work against the potential decision. At a time when the IDF is “fighting terrorist monsters,” this intention is “the height of absurdity and a moral low,” he wrote, saying his government will act “by all means against these moves.”

The secretary of state was questioned on Israeli human rights violations in a press conference in Italy on Friday. “You’ll see results very soon. I’ve made determinations; you can expect to see them in the days ahead,” Blinken told journalists. He added that the US applies the Leahy Law “across the board,” and that it’s been gathering facts of the matter and analyzing them.

The Leahy Law – named after its principal sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy – prohibits the Departments of State and Defense from extending military assistance to foreign armies and law enforcement units that are proven to have flagrantly violated human rights. Should the sanctions go through, the unit will be banned from receiving any kind of US training or material assistance.

According to one of Axios’ sources, the determination was based on incidents that occurred prior to the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel. One of the cases which brought attention to the unit was the 2022 death of 78-year-old Omar Assad, who was detained by Netzah Yehuda soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank, zip-tied, gagged, and left in a parking lot in the winter. An autopsy by three Palestinian physicians, noting injuries on his arms and legs, gave the cause of death as cardiac arrest from psychological stress resulting from physical violence, Israeli newspaper Haaretz said at the time.

According to the newspaper, the unit was redeployed to the Golan Heights in Syria in January last year after a “relatively large number of incidents” in which soldiers were arrested for beating Palestinians.