Police chief to AG: Ben Gvir pushed to prevent police from guarding Gaza aid convoys

Outgoing commissioner says minister warned him of ‘consequences’ of his insistence on protecting convoys, held talks behind his back with other top officers on various matters

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at the scene of a fatal shooting attack in Re'em Junction, on February 16, 2024. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at the scene of a fatal shooting attack in Re'em Junction, on February 16, 2024. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Outgoing Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai has revealed details of repeated attempts by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to interfere in operational matters in recent months, including attempts to prevent police patrols from guarding humanitarian aid convoys headed for Gaza.

In a May 27 letter to Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara circulated on Thursday, Shabtai wrote that Ben Gvir told senior police officials, behind his back, that he did not want police providing protection for humanitarian aid convoys crossing through Israel, arguing that the task came under the responsibility of the military.

Far-right activists have repeatedly attacked aid trucks headed for Gaza in recent months, saying no assistance should go to the territory so long as hostages remain in the hands of Hamas. In a handful of cases, the vehicles targeted weren’t carrying any aid, but rather commercial goods.

Ben Gvir criticized the attacks, though he has also indicated that he agrees with activists’ demand that supplies not be transferred to Palestinians in the Strip.

According to Shabtai’s letter to the attorney general, Ben Gvir held a conference call with the deputy police commissioner and the police commander of the southern district in January after the IDF chief of staff spoke with Shabtai about police protection for the convoys.

“The national security minister gave instructions that it was his policy that [police] should not help on the issue of [aid convoy protection] since it is the IDF’s responsibility,” Shabtai said he was told by the head of the southern police district.

He added that he told Ben Gvir this was a police function, and that the minister had threatened “consequences” as a result.

File – People holding Israeli flags stand in front of trucks carrying humanitarian aid as they try to stop them from entering the Gaza Strip near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Then in May, Shabtai said Ben Gvir protested police protection for the convoys to the police commissioner again.

“I made clear to the minister that the police are carrying out and will continue to carry out their job on this issue,” Shabtai told the attorney general.

In a separate incident described in the letter, Shabtai wrote that Ben Gvir intervened with other senior police officials to have officers who were involved in violent conduct on Mount Meron on May 26 suspended.

In January, the attorney general told the High Court that the national security minister could set policy, but not instruct police on specific enforcement, after activist groups petitioned the court to prevent Ben Gvir from giving orders on how to police protests. The court ruled that the minister had violated a decision by the court last year that said he was not permitted to issue such orders.

Police push back ultra-Orthodox men who tried to enter the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer, at Mount Meron, May 26, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Regarding Ben Gvir’s alleged interference in the disciplining of border police officers after the Meron incident, Shabtai said that he had become aware after the events that “the minister spoke with the commander of the northern district and with the commander of the Border Police and concluded with the Border Police commander on the suspension of some of the officers involved.”

“Neither the minister nor the Border Police commander have the authority to suspend the police officers, certainly not before an investigation of the incident,” he wrote.

Ben Gvir and Shabtai have had an up-and-down relationship. The minister threatened last year not to extend the police commissioner’s term by the customary year, triggering a spat with National Unity chair Benny Gantz that was ultimately negotiated by the Likud party.

Shabtai had been due to end his tenure in January and had previously said he would not seek an extension, but changed his decision after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

In recent weeks though, Ben Gvir has been pursuing an early termination for Shabtai, who is set to leave the position next month, claiming general dysfunction on the part of the police chief, though the attorney general has said she believes the far-right minister is acting out of “ulterior motives.”

The national security minister has tapped Deputy Commissioner Avshalom Peled as the next police commissioner, as Shabtai’s tenure is due to end on July 17.

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