ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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After raging at police restraint toward protesters, Ben Gvir removes Tel Aviv top cop

Amichai Eshed’s transfer to head training division carried out with commissioner’s approval; shortly thereafter, Eshed is called to oversee response to terror attack in the city

Left: Police's Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed speaks to the media at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90); Right: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the entrance to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Tel Aviv Police District Commander, Amichai Eshed, at a changeover ceremony for outgoing minister Omer Barlev and incoming Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir, in Jerusalem on January 1, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Thursday announced the removal of the police’s Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed from his position, re-assigning him to a new role following another day of chaotic anti-government protests.

In a statement in the early evening, Ben Gvir said he had decided to appoint Eshed as head of the police’s Training Department with immediate effect, based on a recommendation from Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.

The move was widely seen as a stinging dismissal of Eshed, who was believed to harbor ambitions to lead the police force, with Hebrew media indicating Ben Gvir had long grumbled about his ostensibly soft hand with anti-government protesters.

Amid Thursday’s protests, which saw the Ayalon Highway blocked for some two hours and roads around Ben Gurion Airport jammed by demonstrators, Ben Gvir was reported to rage at police’s conduct.

Kan news and other outlets reported that he complained cops “didn’t follow my instructions throughout the day, both at the airport and on Ayalon… They do whatever they want — it won’t continue,” the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Later in the day, he announced several appointments, among them Eshed’s as head of the Training Department.

“Eshed wasn’t fitting for fieldwork; the Training Department is also respectable,” Ben Gvir was quoted by Kan as saying.

Tel Aviv district police chief Amichai Eshed speaks to the media at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Notably, Eshed was on vacation during the March 1 mass protests in Tel Aviv, when police came under criticism for using a heavier hand with protesters, leading to several injuries. His deputy oversaw those rallies, with police conduct then praised by Ben Gvir for its severe response toward unruliness.

Shortly after Ben Gvir’s decision was announced, three people were wounded in a terror attack on central Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street, and Eshed rushed to the scene to oversee the security response.

Speaking to the media at the scene of the shooting, Eshed refused to comment on the reappointment, insisting he was focused solely on doing everything he could to protect citizens. “We’ll deal with it at the right time,” he added.

Police and rescue workers at the scene of a suspected terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)

Ben Gvir has frequently complained that police have not taken a tough enough hand against protesters, who he brands “anarchists.”

Demonstrators have repeatedly blocked major highways, in particular the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. According to reports, Ben Gvir fumed over Eshed’s soft touch.

But on Thursday Ben Gvir insisted that Eshed’s reassignment had been “preplanned” and “was not a dismissal.”

In a statement, Yesh Atid, the party of opposition leader Yair Lapid, branded Ben Gvir a “weak TikTok clown,” and accused him of politicizing the police force.

Ben Gvir “is making every possible mistake in order to weaken the criminal justice system,” it said, accusing him of seeking bloodier clashes. “He thinks his actions will weaken the demonstrations… he’s badly mistaken.”

Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group in Jerusalem, on February 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Unity chair Benny Gantz accused Ben Gvir of carrying out a “political purge.”

“The police under the command of the police chief are doing exactly as they are obligated — acting independently and not taking political orders [to act] against a political protest,” Gantz said, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately sack the firebrand Ben Gvir “before he destroys the police and the rule of law.”

Referencing an earlier tweet from the prime minister’s son that accused police of engaging in a “rebellion” against his father’s government, MK Gideon Sa’ar, also of National Unity, wrote on Twitter: “Yair Netanyahu tweets and Ben Gvir dismisses. A crazy approach by a caricature of a government that is increasingly disconnected from its people.”

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