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US senator wants to cut aid to Israel's elite units

Rusty Stewart

US Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is promoting a bill to suspend Washington's assistance to three elite Israel Defense Forces units, alleging they are involved in human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Leahy wants aid withheld from the Israeli navy's Shayetet 13 unit, the undercover Duvdevan unit and the Israel Air Force's Shaldag unit. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a long-time friend of Leahy, met with him in Washington two weeks ago to try to persuade him to withdraw the initiative.

Leahy began promoting the legislation after protesters staged a rally outside office, demanding that he denounce the killing by Shayetet 13 commandos of nine Turkish activists who were part of the flotilla to Gaza in May 2011. Leahy, who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee's sub-committee on foreign operations, was the principle sponsor of a 1997 bill prohibiting the US from providing military assistance to foreign military units suspected of human rights abuses or war crimes.

Leahy says the other named units are responsible for harming innocent Palestinian civilians and that no system of investigation is in place to ensure that their members are not committing human rights violations. According to Leahy's proposal, US military assistance to Israel would be subject to the same restrictions that apply to other countries, including Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan. Barak, in his meeting with Leahy, reportedly countered: "If a Palestinian is injured, he can approach the High Court of Justice. The investigations undergo judicial review that is independent of commanders. There are dozens of hearings every year that are based on Palestinians' complaints against soldiers. They reach the highest and most independent authorities." (Haaretz, Aug. 16)

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