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State Department evaluates ‘new information’ from Israel to determine whether IDF unit violated US law

The State Department is evaluating “new information” provided by the Israeli government on the status of an Israeli military unit believed to have committed serious human rights violations in the West Bank before the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks, according to a letter sent to House Speaker Mike Johnson by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The information comes as Blinken weighs whether to recommend suspending U.S. aid to the unit under a federal measure known as the Leahy Act. The law prevents the United States from providing weapons or funds for military assistance to groups when there is credible information that the groups have violated human rights.

The potential move, now the subject of intense public scrutiny as the Biden administration faces increasing pressure to hold Israel accountable for meeting international human rights standards, would be unprecedented in the partnership decades-long security dispute between the United States and Israel.

But in the undated letter, which was obtained and authenticated by CBS News, Blinken assures Johnson that the broader decisions he made under the Leahy Act “will not delay the delivery of any U.S. aid” and that Israel would “receive all American aid.” amount allocated by Congress. According to a source with knowledge of the letter, Johnson sought assurances from Blinken before putting a long-delayed foreign aid package up for a House vote. Blinken’s letter was delivered to Johnson last Saturday, the day the vote was scheduled to take place.

Blinken clarified in the letter that he made decisions regarding three military units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), as well as two units of civil authorities implicated in incidents of gross human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. None of the incidents investigated involved Israeli operations against Hamas in Gaza or against Iran or its proxies, and all predated the October 7 attacks, the letter said.

Two of the IDF battalions were “credibly implicated” in gross human rights violations, Blinken said, but the Israeli government has already made “effective reparations” in both cases. This means that U.S. security assistance can continue to flow to these units as well as civil authority units.

In the case of the IDF’s third unit, Blinken said, there has been no “effective redress so far,” although the Israeli government has acknowledged that the group engaged in “incompatible conduct with IDF rules” and had been transferred to the Golan Heights from the West. Bank in 2022.

“The Israeli government has presented new information regarding the status of the unit and we will commit to identifying a path to effective redress for this unit,” Blinken wrote, without specifying whether a suspension of U.S. aid might ultimately be justified.

CBS News previously reported that one of the offending battalions was the Netzah Yehuda Unit, which was involved in the death of an 80-year-old Palestinian-American in 2022.

Officials familiar with the process said the United States and Israel have a formal agreement in place that requires the United States to consult with the Israeli government before reaching a conclusion under the Foreign Assistance Act, to which the Leahy law falls. This consultation regarding the third military unit is currently taking place, they said.

The United States has separately examined whether the Israeli military and the Israeli government respected American and international humanitarian law in their conflict with Hamas.

In February, President Biden issued a new national security memorandum, known as NSM20. He ordered the State Department to review all countries receiving U.S. military aid to certify whether they are complying with U.S. and international humanitarian law. That came in response to pressure from Senate Democrats, including Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, who has publicly accused Israel of violating the Foreign Assistance Act and other U.S. laws in the current conflict.

“Our credibility is at stake and I am very concerned by reports that the administration is not enforcing our standards consistently,” Van Hollen said in a statement Friday. Congress is expected to receive these results by May 8.

In his letter to Johnson, Blinken emphasized that the department had not made any additional decisions under the Leahy Act.

“I also want to emphasize that, contrary to some media reports, no further decisions by Leahy regarding Israel have been made,” he wrote.

Blinken said for the first time last Friday at a G7 news conference in Capri, Italy, that he had made “decisions” related to possible violations of the Leahy Act. “(You) can expect to see them in the coming days,” he said at the time.

The idea that the United States could take such a punitive measure sparked fierce condemnation from Israeli officials, in what American sources called a surprisingly sharp reaction.

Last Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described this possible sanction as “the height of absurdity, morally low”. Israeli War Minister Benny Gantz said it would set a “dangerous precedent.”

Gantz and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant raised the issue in phone calls with Blinken last Sunday.

Blinken’s comments also come just ahead of a crucial House vote on an additional $95 billion aid package including funds for Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel, which has languished in Congress for more than six months due to opposition from right-wing lawmakers.

“Following Secretary Blinken’s comments, the President requested an explanation from the administration and assurances regarding the timely delivery of military aid to Israel, which the House passed on Saturday,” a spokesperson said. from Johnson’s office in a statement.

Earlier this week, Johnson said in a radio interview that before the bill was introduced in the House, he had requested – and received – similar written assurances from the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

Asked about Johnson’s comments Thursday, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said he “would not speak to the details of our correspondence with members of Congress and congressional leaders.”

“What may or may not happen has no bearing on the long-standing security relationship we can have with this country,” he continued, without mentioning Israel. “(If) we were to find a violation, it would be a restriction on a particular unit or component.”

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