Senior police officers see plan as 'catastrophe'

Ex-police chief: Ben Gvir could use proposed national guard to launch coup

Moshe Karadi says force under minister’s command could collide with cops, face contradictory orders

Then-police commissioner Moshe Karadi, March 2007. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Then-police commissioner Moshe Karadi, March 2007. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A former police chief said on Saturday that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir could potentially use his proposed national guard to carry out a coup against the government, joining a chorus of ex-top cops who have warned against the plans.

Moshe Karadi, who led the force between 2004-2007, said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be wary of giving such power to the far-right lawmaker, warning that Ben Gvir “will use it against him one day.”

Netanyahu “should learn a little bit of history and see what happens in countries in which politicians have their own armed forces,” Karadi said at a speaking event at the Emek Hefer Regional Council. “It’s a short distance between this and the fact that he, with this power, could take over the Prime Minister’s Office and launch a coup.”

The cabinet is on Sunday set to discuss the creation of a national guard force, which will comprise 2,000 servicemembers who will answer directly to the far-right lawmaker, and will be tasked with tackling “nationalist crime” and terrorism, and “restoring governance where needed.”

A timeline for the creation of such a force is unclear, though it is likely to take many months.

But 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 government minister, arguing that it could politicize policing and undermine the principle of equality in law enforcement.

Channel 12 reported on Friday that Ben Gvir had denied a request by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to attend cabinet meetings in order to give his opinion on the formation of the force.

Karadi also warned on Saturday of a potentially disastrous situation in which police and the proposed national guard receive conflicting orders to deal with protesters.

“Imagine [demonstrators] blocking the Ayalon Highway, and the district commander decides in this situation, it is correct to contain the protest as has been the case until now. So he lets them, and the national security minister doesn’t like it,” Karadi said.

The minister then “sends his ‘revolutionary guard’ to clear the road,” he said, comparing the proposed force to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “And then, we have a collision between two police forces, one subordinate to the police commissioner, and one to the minister.”

In an interview with Channel 12 on Friday, Karadi labeled the plans a “recipe for disaster.”

Ben Gvir has repeatedly involved himself directly in the policing of the massive demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul program, including telling the police which highways to leave open during the protests, discussing the methods of crowd dispersal, and visiting police command centers while demonstrations were underway.

Another ex-police commissioner, Assaf Hefetz, told Channel 12 on Friday that Ben Gvir’s plans should not be carried out, because such a force should be accountable to the police, and “not under the responsibility of a politician.”

Former commissioner of the Israeli Police Assaf Hefetz attends a press conference in Tel Aviv, on January 15, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“He can’t do it, he doesn’t know and he has no idea how to build something like this,” Hefetz said, and stressed that if a national guard were established, it should be accountable to the police.

“Two bodies can not operate on the same territorial unit, called the State of Israel, it is too small an area and there is no need or logic in this,” Hefetz explained.

If the guard is not integrated into the police, “there is a fear that it will be a militia, and that disqualifies it from serving as a police force that works under the law,” he said.

Ben Gvir took a jab at Hefetz and Karadi over the Friday interviews, tweeting that reality shows should give them “a talent contract because their need for attention at my expense is a bit pathetic.”

David Tzur, former Tel Aviv District police chief, also expressed his concern that a force subordinate to a politician would create issues: “It harms one of the most important fundamentals of the principle of deploying forces and the unity of command.”

“It will become a private army at best and a militia at worst. I understand why he thinks he needs this,” Tzur told the network, citing a weak police response to severe riots witnessed in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in May 2021. However, creating such a force was an “unreasonable response,” he added.

In the explanatory notes of Ben Gvir’s proposal on the matter, it is noted that plans for a national guard were started by the last government as part of the response to those riots in order for the government to more swiftly respond to such outbreaks of inter-communal violence.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Israeli Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai at a ceremony for the opening of a new police station in the Neot Hovav Industrial zone, southern Israel, March 14, 2023. (Flash90)

Channel 12 reported on Saturday that within police ranks, the plans for a national guard are viewed as a “catastrophe.”

Senior police sources told the network that over the past few months, they have been mainly dealing with policing protests against the proposed judicial overhaul, leading to a manpower shortage.

The officials griped that Ben Gvir has not fulfilled his promises to boost recruitment and transfer funds. On the contrary, the sources said that more staff are quitting the force than joining.

The national guard unit established by the previous government in 2022 is currently under the authority of the Israel Police and comprises only a few hundred personnel derived mostly from the Border Police, which is itself a gendarmerie force.

The proposal says that the new national guard force will be comprised of “regular forces and tactical, dedicated brigades” spread out nationwide.

Publication of the draft resolution came days after Netanyahu promised to bring it to a vote on Sunday in return for Ben Gvir agreeing to his suspension of judicial shakeup legislation following mass protests, strikes, and unrest against the plan. The government is currently holding talks with the opposition to try to reach a negotiated compromise on the matter.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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