Israeli leaders and military criticize reported US plans to sanction IDF unit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers have sharply criticized reports of plans by the United States to sanction an Israeli military unit for alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The allegations are said to implicate members of the Netzah Yehuda battalion of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the occupied West Bank, a unit established in 1999 comprising religious and Ultra-Orthodox Jews. They precede the Hamas-led attacks on October 7.

“Sanctions must not be imposed on the Israel Defense Forces!” Netanyahu posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday.

“In recent weeks, I have been working against the imposition of sanctions on Israeli citizens, including in my conversations with senior American government officials. At a time when our soldiers are fighting the monsters of terror, the intention to impose a sanction on a unit in the IDF is the height of absurdity and a moral low.

“The government headed by me will act by all means against these moves,” added Netanyahu.

Reports of the potential sanctioning came as Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday said that violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank increased in 2023 to its highest level since 2006. This was the case even before the Hamas-led attacks on October 7, HRW said, citing UN data.

Tensions over Israel’s military offensive in Gaza have spilled into the West Bank. Israeli troops or settlers have killed at least 483 Palestinians there since October 7, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he made determinations about whether to cut funding to certain Israeli security units for reports of human rights abuses committed before October 7. He didn’t explicitly name Netzah Yehuda.

An ‘inseparable part’ of the IDF

“The ‘Netzah Yehuda’ battalion is an inseparable part of the Israel Defense Forces. It is subject to military law and is responsible for operating in full compliance with International law,” Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, posted on X, on Saturday.

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,” said Gantz. “I have great appreciation for our American friends, but the decision to impose sanctions on an IDF unit and its soldiers sets a dangerous precedent and conveys the wrong message to our shared enemies during war time… I intend on acting to have this decision changed.”

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said, “The decision to impose American sanctions on the IDF while Israel is fighting for its existence is complete madness.”

The IDF said over the weekend that Netzah Yehuda Battalion soldiers in Gaza are “professionally and bravely conducting operations in accordance to the IDF Code of Ethics and with full commitment to international law.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, pictured on Capri island, in Italy, on April 19, told reporters that investigations into allegations must be carried out "very carefully." - Remo Casilli/Reuters
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, pictured on Capri island, in Italy, on April 19, told reporters that investigations into allegations must be carried out "very carefully." - Remo Casilli/Reuters

“The reports regarding sanctions against the Netzah Yehuda Battalion are not currently known to the IDF. Should such a decision be made on the matter, its consequences will be reviewed. The IDF remains committed to continue to examine exceptional incidents professionally and according to law.”

Blinken said investigations regarding the allegations “takes time,” adding, “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’ve made determinations. You can expect to see them in the days ahead,” he told reporters in Italy on Friday.

Blinken did not give any indications about what his determinations are and if the US will in fact stop funding to those units.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Abeer Salman contributed reporting.

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