Police force will disintegrate if National Guard is under Ben-Gvir, says commissioner

Middle East Monitor  /  April 5, 2023

Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai warned on Tuesday that the proposed National Guard should not be commanded by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir instead of the police commander.

“This step will lead to the collapse of the police force in addition to harming the security of Israelis,” said Shabtai during a public event at Western Galilee College. He indicated that his opposition to the proposed arrangement is no secret, and reiterated the need to keep all law enforcement agencies under one roof. “The creation of a National Guard subordinate to Ben-Gvir is an unnecessary step that will have a very high price, to the point of harming the personal security of Israelis.”

On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet voted to approve the establishment of the National Guard, which Ben-Gvir demanded should report directly to him. The controversial force is expected to consist of 2,000 officers who will be tasked with tackling “national crime” and “restoring the rule of law when needed”. The timeline for the formation of such a force is unclear, although it would likely take months.

The powers and duties of the unit, and to whom it will be accountable, is under discussion by the Israeli authorities, including the security services and government agencies. The decisions made will be issued within 90 days.

Likud MK Tali Gottlieb has publicly opposed placing the National Guard under Ben-Gvir’s command. “While such a body is necessary, it should not be under the authority of a cabinet minister,” she tweeted. “A cabinet minister sets policy, enacts regulations, prioritises tasks, ensures an adequate budget, and is responsible for implementing his office’s policies, but gives no direct instructions.”

Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara warned the government on Sunday that there is a “legal impediment” to the current version of the proposal and that the police can deal with the challenges they face without a competing body.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Ben-Gvir last week that he would put the issue to a vote in a cabinet meeting, in return for the far-right extremist agreeing to put the judicial overhaul proposal on hold.

A chorus of former senior police chiefs has warned against the plan, including former police chief Moshe Karadi, who said Ben-Gvir might use force to launch a “coup”.

Similarly, civil rights groups as well as opposition politicians have expressed grave concern over the proposal. They argue that it could politicise police work and undermine the principle of equality in law enforcement.