ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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600 civil security squads established since Oct. 7 to boost ‘sense of security’

Thousands of assault rifles have been distributed to the squads; National Security Ministry coordinator says this could bolster security services in event of a multi-front war

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Shimon Lav, the National Security Ministry coordinator for establishing and arming civilian security squads and a retired deputy police commissioner, speaks at a press conference in the ministry, October 24, 2023. (Courtesy the National Security Ministry)
Shimon Lav, the National Security Ministry coordinator for establishing and arming civilian security squads and a retired deputy police commissioner, speaks at a press conference in the ministry, October 24, 2023. (Courtesy the National Security Ministry)

Some 600 civilian security squads have been established and armed around Israel under the auspices of the Israel Police in the weeks since the October 7 atrocities committed by Hamas and the outbreak of war with Gaza.

Retired Deputy Police Commissioner Shimon Lavi — who was appointed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to serve as coordinator for the ministry on the issue — said Tuesday that this effort comprised “a third” of the target, implying that at least another 1,200 security squads could be established.

Speaking during a press conference at the ministry, Lavi added that he hoped to complete this process in the next 10 days, during which time the focus will be on establishing security squads in mixed Jewish-Arab cities, as well as other communities currently lacking them.

Civilian security squads are comprised of volunteers and typically provide enhanced security to small towns and communities in Israel’s periphery and the West Bank settlements, where the police have a lighter presence.

They are overseen by the Israel Police and are subject to the same open-fire regulations as the police, Lavi noted.

Asked whether or not authorities will take back the thousands of assault rifles which have been distributed to the civilian security squads after the current war ends, Lavi said a decision on that question has yet to be made.

Members of the civilian security team of Kibbutz Malkia in northern Israel close to the Lebanese border are seen during a drill simulating the Infiltration of a terrorist into the kibbutz, July 19, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

“In the last two weeks, we have been on a marathon process of establishing a very substantial force,” said Lavi. “I’m not talking about just distributing weapons to civilians, but rather building a force of professional civilian security squads, a rapid response [capability] with a broad geographic reach, to provide a sense of security.”

Lavi said the squads were being made into a “police-like” force and that “they have same authority to use weapons as the police.”

He said that the rationale behind bolstering and increasing the civilian security squads was to prepare for a multi-front scenario in which the security forces are stretched thin.

“We have a very strong army, a determined police force… but I am talking about a multi-front situation, an all-out war, other scenarios with a geographic spread, in which the security forces will be stretched, and where reinforcements are needed we will have the civilian security squads,” said Lavi.

During Hamas’s savage and murderous attack on southern Israel on October 7, some squads helped repel Hamas terrorists and likely saved numerous lives. Others however had their rifles reclaimed by the IDF in recent years due to the widespread theft of such weapons, and were reportedly unable to respond adequately to the assault.

Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, announced three days after the Hamas invasion that his ministry had purchased 10,000 assault rifles for distribution to civilian security squads to bolster internal public security in the face of the heightened terrorism threat, including from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

He also said specifically that he had requested that the police commissioner prepare for a “Guardian of the Walls 2 scenario,” referring to the severe inter-communal riots that took place during the May 2021 conflict with Hamas — comments which garnered widespread criticism.

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