Several months ago, pro-Palestinian protesters held a rally outside of Leahy's office, demanding that he denounce the killing by Shayetet 13 commandos of nine Turkish activists who had been part of last May's Gaza flotilla.
As head of the Senate Appropriations Committee's sub-committee on foreign operations, Leahy was the principle sponsor of a 1997 bill prohibiting the United States from providing military assistance or funding to foreign military units suspected of human rights abuses or war crimes. The law also requires that the U.S. Defense Department must screen foreign officers and soldiers who come to the United States for training for this purpose.
Leahy wants the new legislation to become a part of the U.S. foreign assistance package for 2012, placing restrictions on military assistance to Israel, particularly to those three units.
Leahy says that these units have harmed innocent Palestinian civilians and that no system of investigation exists to make sure that their members are not committing human rights violations. According to Leahy's proposal, the U.S. military assistance to Israel would be governed by the same set of restrictions that apply to countries such as Jordan, Egypt, and Pakistan.
The senior Israeli official said that the Israeli Embassy in Washington had been attempting to persuade Leahy to back down from the initiative.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a long-time friend of Leahy's, met with him in Washington two weeks ago in order to persuade him to withdraw the legislation.
"The difference between Israel and terror groups or other countries in the Middle East is that we give an accounting and there is monitoring," Barak was quoted by the senior Israeli official as telling the senator.
"If a Palestinian is injured, he can approach the High Court of Justice," Barak said. "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."
Leahy listened to Barak, but has not said whether he would withdraw his initiative.
Leahy has for many years promoted human rights issues globally and has been sharply critical of Israel in recent years, especially following Operation Cast Lead in late 2008.
Leahy has served in the Senate for 35 years and was a personal friend of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and has known Ehud Barak since he was the Israeli military's chief of staff.