US set to sanction ultra-Orthodox IDF battalion

The Netzah Yehuda is an ultra-Orthodox battalion in the IDF
The Netzah Yehuda is an ultra-Orthodox battalion in the IDF - MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

The US is set to sanction an ultra-Orthodox unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in what would be an unprecedented move.

If confirmed, Joe Biden’s White House would ban the Netzah Yehuda battalion from receiving US military supplies or training. The unit, made up exclusively of ultra-Orthodox fighters, has been accused of human rights violations in the occupied West Bank.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said on Friday that he will soon reveal the results of an investigation using the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to foreign security forces that violate human rights.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticised the decision, calling it “the height of absurdity and a moral low”.

He was joined by his defence minister, Benny Gantz, who said sanctioning an IDF unit and its soldiers “sets a dangerous precedent”.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Netzah Yehuda is made up exclusively of ultra-Orthodox fighters
Netzah Yehuda is made up exclusively of ultra-Orthodox fighters - MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

The US is on a tightrope with Israel and its conflicts with Hamas in Gaza, as well as Iran. Washington has proffered financial and military support even as calls for restraint grow louder.

On Saturday night, the US announced $17 billion (£13.7 billion) in military aid to Israel in the midst of the sanctions scandal. It comes just one week after an aerial bombardment against Israel from Iran, in which a US-led coalition helped intercept almost all the 350-plus drones and missiles fired at the Jewish state.

“I intend on acting to have this decision changed,” Mr Gantz said of the sanctions on Sunday.

Investigations into the unit began when an 80-year-old Palestinian-American, Omar Awad, died in the custody of the battalion in 2022.

At the time, the IDF said that the unit’s commander was to be reprimanded and the relevant platoon commander and company commander would be removed from their positions and barred from commanding roles for two years.