ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Ben Gvir reportedly set to detail plan for billion-shekel, 1,800-man national guard

Minister agrees with top cop on outline for force, which will reportedly focus on combating crime, amid confusion over body’s purpose and who will be in charge

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to onlookers at the scene of a terror attack in Jerusalem's Neve Yaakov neighborhood, on January 27, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to onlookers at the scene of a terror attack in Jerusalem's Neve Yaakov neighborhood, on January 27, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir plans to detail elements of his proposal to create a new security force, which may include a billion-shekel budget and nearly 2,000 officers, a source close to Ben Gvir said Tuesday, as questions abounded over the new force which as of yet has no clear mandate or purpose.

The force, dubbed by Ben Gvir as a national guard, appears set to move toward government approval after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu green-lit the proposal Monday night. The move was widely seen as coming in exchange for Ben Gvir backing down from his threat to quit the coalition after Netanyahu announced a pause on contentious judicial overhaul legislation.

On Monday, Ben Gvir circulated a letter to media outlets signed by Netanyahu, in which the prime minister vowed to raise the issue of forming such a body within the National Security Ministry in the upcoming cabinet meeting on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Ben Gvir met Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai to discuss the plan and the two agreed to establish a framework deal for creating such a body, a joint statement said.

The proposal to create the force has raised suspicions it will be directly subordinate to Ben Gvir, sparking fears that he could wield it as a personal militia and use it to crush political dissent. The minister has been a vocal critic of the police’s handling of nationwide protests, calling for officers to use harsher measures against demonstrators, and has sought greater direct control of the force.

A source close to Ben Gvir defended the plan, indicating it would be used to fight crime, especially offenses emanating from the Arab community.

Border Police officers guard at the Mahane Yehuda Market in central Jerusalem, September 30, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“This is a model of a national guard under the National Security Ministry. Its purposes are fighting protection rackets, crime families, serious crimes, agricultural crimes,” the source said. “It’s not going to be under the minister but under the National Security Ministry. The Prison Service is also under a ministry, as is the witness protection authority. It’s happening according to the law, not slipshod.”

Concerns over the force’s mandate have been amplified by questions over the need for such a body, which will seemingly duplicate tasks already carried out by the police and Border Police.

“We still haven’t had a discussion, we don’t know,” a police official said in response to a question about the nature of the guard. “We saw it yesterday in the media like everyone else… Right now we have no clue if he will say it is under the police commissioner. We don’t know anything, and I don’t think the National Security Ministry does either.”

According to the source close to Ben Gvir, NIS 1 billion ($282 million) has already been earmarked for the force and there is funding for over 1,800 officers.

The police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said that the force already has a unit called the national guard, currently used as a utility force in a variety of tasks, including backing up police where needed, such as during recent protests, and protecting the border.

“Ben Gvir wants to create something separate, not to take the existing force but to make something new,” the police source said. “Right now, the national guard’s forces come from inside the Border Police, so the moment a new national guard is created, that force will return to the Border Police and be called a different name.”

Border Police officers stand guard near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 25, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Border Police is formally a part of the police and ultimately reports to the police commissioner, although parts of it fall under the military’s operational command.

Ben Gvir has long called for the creation of a so-called national guard under his direct control.

He has said that he seeks to establish a volunteer national guard that would be deployed in times of ethnic unrest, such as the May 2021 Jewish-Arab race riots that took place in some Israeli cities, against a background of war with the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.

Last month, Ben Gvir confirmed to The Times of Israel that he still plans to incorporate the entirety of the Border Police into a new national guard, as part of a push to boost the policing power of an understaffed force, although it was unclear how the move would accomplish that goal.

Ben Gvir in January presented a framework for the national guard, which had some similar characteristics to an arrangement proposed by his predecessor, former public security minister Omer Barlev, and then-prime minister Naftali Bennett.

Barlev and Bennett approved a plan to create an “Israeli guard,” composed of active-duty and reserve officers and volunteers trained by Border Police professionals. Since the announcement last June, the idea struggled to gain traction.

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