‘Civil responsibility’ in West Bank handed to Smotrich after meeting with COGAT head

Finance minister was given power to fill sensitive posts in territories; he is slated to meet with incoming IDF chief Herzi Halevi later Thursday

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (center), Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right), and COGAT head Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian (left) hold a meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, January 12, 2023. (Courtesy)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (center), Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right), and COGAT head Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian (left) hold a meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, January 12, 2023. (Courtesy)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and the head of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories held a joint meeting on Thursday morning to coordinate the responsibilities each minister will have over the hybrid civil-military unit COGAT.

Later Thursday, incoming military chief Herzi Halevi is slated to meet with Smotrich, who was given ministerial responsibility for some aspects of the Israel Defense Forces as part of recent coalition agreements.

In addition to being the finance minister, the far-right Religious Zionism leader was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a sort of junior minister in the Defense Ministry.

Coalition agreements allow him to appoint the generals leading COGAT and its office overseeing many settlement issues, the Civil Administration, subject to Netanyahu’s approval, but it is unclear if the army will agree to such a change.

Currently, the major general in charge of COGAT is appointed by the defense minister at the recommendation of the IDF chief of staff, and the brigadier general overseeing the Civil Administration is appointed by the chief of staff.

During the Thursday morning meeting at the Defense Ministry, Gallant and COGAT head Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian “began coordinating work procedures and transferring civil responsibility to Smotrich,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The ministers agreed to continue their full cooperation,” the statement added.

Further details of the “civil responsibility” were not immediately known. Smotrich has not yet made any decisions in his secondary ministerial position, and the Knesset’s legal adviser said last month that Gallant would still be able to overrule him.

Incoming IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi is seen during a ceremony at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 1, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The IDF said Thursday that Halevi, who will enter the role of IDF chief on Monday, “will meet with the finance minister as part of the process of entering the position.”

“The meeting is being held in accordance with the instructions of the defense minister and in accordance with procedures,” the IDF added.

Outgoing military chief of staff Aviv Kohavi reportedly told Netanyahu, Gallant, and other senior coalition politicians that the IDF would not be answerable in any way to additional ministers, such as Smotrich.

After news of a phone call between Kohavi and Netanyahu was leaked, an IDF spokesperson said the pair had agreed “that decisions that are tied to the IDF will be made only after the IDF presents the consequences and significance of such decisions.”

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