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State Dept. notifies Congress of 4 Israeli units to keep receiving US aid

The State Department hasn't determined whether to designate a notoriously violent unit known as Netzah Yehuda under the Leahy law.
Israeli soldiers from the Kfir brigade's Shimshon ("Samson") battalion ride in a Merkava battle tank during a military exercise at the Tzeelim army base on July 3, 2018 simulating urban combat in the Gaza Strip. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP) (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The State Department notified US lawmakers on Friday that four Israeli security units flagged for gross violations of human rights under the so-called Leahy law have taken corrective measures and remain eligible for US military assistance, Al-Monitor has learned.  

The four units are the Shimshon Battalion, the West Bank Branch of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, the Ma’avarim (Crossings) Unit and the Shahar Battalion. 

All four were certified by the State Department as having sufficiently “remediated” the alleged violations through judicial actions and there are no further abuse concerns, said a US official speaking on condition of anonymity. 

The State Department has not made an expected determination on the ultra-Orthodox battalion known as Netzah Yehuda.

Netzah Yehuda is responsible for the January 2022 killing of Palestinian-American Omar Assad, who was found dead of a stress-induced heart attack after members of the battalion gagged, blindfolded and handcuffed him at a checkpoint in the West Bank village of Jiljiliya. Israel dismissed two Netzah Yehuda officers over the 78-year-old’s death but did not bring criminal charges.  

State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Monday that the department had found that five Israeli units were responsible for carrying out gross violations of human rights outside of the Gaza Strip before the Israel-Hamas war erupted on Oct. 7. 

Patel declined to name the units, four of which he said effectively addressed the violations. The Israeli government provided “additional information” on the remaining unit and “consultations” with Israel continue as the State Department weighs whether to restrict aid, he said. 

The US government has never before withheld assistance to an Israeli military unit under the Leahy law, which bars US security assistance from going to foreign security forces credibly accused of committing gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, rape and torture. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on April 19 that he had made “determinations” about possible assistance cuts under the 1997 law, but did not name any specific Israeli military units or individuals.

Israeli leaders have vowed to fight any designation, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it the “height of absurdity and a moral low.” After news leaked of a possible designation last month, Blinken held separate phone calls with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz. 

This developing story has been updated.