IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Photo by Mori Chen
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The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv asked the U.S. State Department to carry out a background check on current Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz in October 2008, according to a diplomatic cable leaked by the WikiLeaks website.

Gantz, then the IDF's attache in Washington, came under scrutiny due to the Leahy Law, which bans the United States from assisting foreign military units that violate human rights.

Unclassified but defined as "sensitive," the U.S. Embassy cable was sent to Washington on October 17, 2008, after the U.S. Department of Defense invited Gantz to participate in a military conference sponsored by the Pentagon's Counterterrorism Fellowship Funds.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv "has no derogatory information on this individual" and "requests that the Department vet this individual per Leahy Amendment requirements," the cable states.

Three days later, the State Department replied. "The Department of State possesses no credible information of gross violations of human rights by [Gantz]," the reply states. "If in the future [the Embassy] becomes aware of possible human rights violation by the individual listed above, [the Embassy] should inform the Department and not proceed with the training."

Gantz was not the only senior IDF officer who was subjected to this background check. In a February 25, 2008 cable to Washington, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv requested a background check on current IDF Judea and Samaria commander Brigadier General Nitzan Alon, who was then head of the IDF Intelligence Wing's Operational Division. Alon was slated to participate in the Near East South Asia Center (NESA ) Executive Seminar.

Background checks on foreign military personnel who participate in U.S. military drills are routine practice at U.S. embassies around the world. Relatively speaking, Israeli military personnel undergo fewer background checks than their counterparts from elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Nevertheless, a recent report from the U.S. State Department's comptroller points to irregularities in Leahy vetting at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. "The OIG team found a need to clarify some aspects of the embassy's role in Leahy vetting [of Israeli officers]," the report says.

"U.S. legislation requires the mission to vet Israeli military personnel who train with U.S. counterparts to make sure they have not committed human rights abuse," it continues. "The embassy is preparing a written, standard operating procedure for doing so by checking names against the records maintained at post by various sections of the mission, including material used to prepare the annual Human Rights Report.

"The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in coordination with the Office of the Legal Adviser and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, should provide Embassy Tel Aviv with updated guidance on vetting Israeli military personnel under the Leahy Amendment."

Haaretz published two weeks ago that Senator Patrick Leahy, who initiated the legislation, is working on an additional amendment that would restrict the provision of training and equipment to three elite IDF units allegedly involved in human rights violations - Shayetet 13, Duvdevan and Shaldag. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met recently with Leahy in Washington in an effort to persuade him to drop the proposed amendment.