Officials unveil ‘Israeli Guard’ riot police unit to handle internal unrest

Gendarmes division will be formed under existing Border Police branch; to include both active, reserve, and volunteer officers

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

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (center), Police Commisoner Kobi Shabtai (right), Public Securiry Minister Omer Barlev (left) stand with Border Police officers at an Israel Police station, June 21, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (center), Police Commisoner Kobi Shabtai (right), Public Securiry Minister Omer Barlev (left) stand with Border Police officers at an Israel Police station, June 21, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and top law enforcement officials on Tuesday announced the formation of a national guard police unit that would be activated in emergencies, citing lessons learned from ethnic unrest amid a war last year.

May 2021 saw massive riots break out in many Arab towns and mixed Israeli cities, home to large numbers of both Arabs and Jews, during the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

“The Guardian of the Walls riots have taught us that we have a national security threat from within. First and foremost we are required to bring solutions to domestic threats,” Bennett said, using the military’s name for the war.

Bennett said tens of thousands of Israelis would eventually join the new unit, in order to “defend Israeli cities in routine and emergency situations.”

The outgoing premier touted the creation of the unit as his “last great act as prime minister.” He said NIS 40 million ($11.5 million) had been earmarked for the program.

According to Israel Police, the “Israeli Guard” unit — which will be formed under the existing Border Police branch — will consist of existing police officers, reserve troops, and volunteers.

The gendarmes plan to expand its 20 reserve companies by another 26 in the coming years, and equip them with “advanced means.” The volunteer force of some 8,000 officers will also be widened by another 1,500 by 2023, according to police.

A volunteer special forces unit will also be established, consisting of another 2,000 officers by 2023. Those members will keep equipment at home and be available for immediate action.

Separately, the existing “Civil Guard” police unit will also expand by another 3,500 volunteers.

“The Israeli Guard will be a skilled and trained force, which can operate in several areas simultaneously and deal with disturbances and emergency scenarios,” police said in a statement.

File: Police are seen in Lod during ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees the police, said “it was clear” to him, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, and chief of the Border Police Amir Cohen, “that the Border Police is the first, immediate, and best answer to the issue of internal security.”

“We are already bringing and will bring even stronger and more rigid internal security to the State of Israel,” Barlev said.

Shabtai said the new unit was “a necessary and extremely important addition” to the force, but that police must “strengthen their budgets, manpower, resources and technology in order to meet all the tasks and challenges that the future holds for us.”

Next month, the State Comptroller’s Office is set to publish a report on the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip, focused mainly on examining gaps between law enforcement agencies.

Among the faulty areas the report will highlight is intelligence; deploying forces; calling up reserves; the operational response in the field; logistical preparation; training forces to deal with disturbances; and handling investigations and prosecutions.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said the unrest highlighted the challenge of maintaining personal security and ensuring public order in ethnically mixed communities, which called for a possible need to deploy additional law enforcement personnel there.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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