Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday penned a letter to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir slamming the proposed establishment of a national guard directly under the control of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party leader.
Gallant wrote to Ben Gvir that “there is no place in Israel for private militias,” in a letter whose contents were aired by Channel 12 news.
“The establishment of a new security body will cause real problems and be a distraction for the security establishment,” he wrote.
Ben Gvir won approval from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his long-sought national guard in March, in exchange for supporting a temporary pause on judicial overhaul legislation.
He has demanded that the force answer directly to him, instead of being subordinate to the existing police, which has drawn warnings from former senior police commanders and current commissioner Kobi Shabtai, who say the plan could harm public security and cause chaos in law enforcement.
A steering committee of professionals from different security bodies and government agencies was established to formulate recommendations for the guard’s establishment. They are expected to announce their conclusions in a month and a half.
Unnamed sources in the security establishment have told Channel 12 that there is little chance the committee will recommend the national guard be established as an independent body separate from police, due to widespread opposition against such a framework.
Ben Gvir rejected Gallant’s criticism, saying in a statement he should concentrate on problems in his own ministry and charging that he’d sent the letter to the media before sending it to the minister’s office.
“The prime minister and Minister Ben Gvir agreed on the establishment of a national guard in Israel and Gallant will not decide how it will work. We ask Gallant, who tried to halt the judicial reforms and who persecutes settlers, to not involve himself in national guard matters. The committee will finish its work and submit its recommendations in a month and a half,” Ben Gvir’s office said in a statement.
Gallant has repeatedly sought to reach a compromise on the government’s far-reaching judicial overhaul.
Ben Gvir 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 during Israel’s war with the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.
The controversial force is expected to comprise 2,000 servicemembers who will be tasked with tackling “nationalist crime” and terrorism, and “restoring governance where needed.” The timeline for the creation of such a force remains unclear. The specific powers granted to the national guard, and whom it will answer to, are also still up in the air.
Civil rights groups, as well as opposition politicians, have expressed extreme concern over the proposal to bring such a force under the direct control of a cabinet minister, arguing that it could politicize policing and undermine the principle of equality in law enforcement.