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US: Blinken failing to act on staff recommendations to sanction Israeli military units, says report

A panel recommended the administration cut assistance to Israeli police and military units, but Blinken is sitting on the recommendations, officials tell ProPublica
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to members of the media as he prepares to depart from Manama for Tel Aviv during his week-long trip across the Middle East, on 10 January 2024.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to media as he prepares to depart from Manama for Tel Aviv during a week-long trip across the Middle East, on 10 January 2024 (Evelyn Hockstein/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has ignored recommendations from a special State Department panel to suspend assistance to Israeli military and police units, after those units were being probed for alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians, according to a report by ProPublica citing several current and former US officials.

The report stated that in several incidents where this panel had reviewed cases of human rights abuses committed by Israeli forces, including extrajudicial killings by police; the gagging and handcuffing of an elderly Palestinian-American man who later died; and an allegation that Israeli interrogators tortured and raped a teenager.

The review of those incidents was obtained by ProPublica and did not include which incidents led to a recommendation of sanctions.

The task force, known as the Israel Leahy Vetting Forum, is made up of Middle East and human rights experts and is named after former Senator Patrick Leahy, who authored the Leahy Laws. Those laws require Washington to cut off assistance to any foreign military or law enforcement units accused of flagrant human rights violations.

According to ProPublica, the recommendations for actions against certain Israeli security units were sent to Blinken in December.

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“They’ve been sitting in his briefcase since then,” one US official told the news site.

A State Department spokesperson told ProPublica that the department "takes its commitment to uphold US human rights laws seriously".

"This process is one that demands a careful and full review," the spokesperson said, "and the department undergoes a fact-specific investigation applying the same standards and procedures regardless of the country in question."

Israel can mitigate sanctions

The incidents reviewed by the news site took place prior to Israel's war on Gaza, which began in October in response to Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took more than 200 people hostage.

Israel launched a full-scale war on the besieged enclave of Gaza, imposing an aerial bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion that has levelled much of Gaza's civilian infrastructure.

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Israeli forces have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, most of whom are women and children, and have targeted schools, UN shelters, mosques, and hospitals.

The Biden administration's response to the war has been to provide Israel with diplomatic and military cover by fast-tracking arms shipments and blocking UN resolutions for a ceasefire in Gaza.

In recent weeks, particularly in response to Israel's killing of several foreign aid workers with the international charity, World Central Kitchen, Democratic lawmakers in the US have called for suspending arms sales to Israel.

US President Joe Biden has signalled some criticisms of Israel, however, the administration has continued to fall short of making any conclusions that Israel is in violation of international law.

This week, more than two dozen Democratic lawmakers called on the administration to provide proof that Israel was not in violation of international law in its military conduct in Gaza.

Officials told ProPublica that even if Blinken approved the sanctions, Israel could mitigate their impact by buying American weapons with their own funds and then providing their sanctioned units with them.

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