Police chief warns force will disintegrate if new national guard put under Ben Gvir

Shabtai insists additional defense body must be subordinate to police to prevent division of forces

Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai at a security exhibition in the South Sharon Regional Council on March 21, 2023. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai at a security exhibition in the South Sharon Regional Council on March 21, 2023. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai warned Tuesday against the government’s proposal to form a national guard that reports directly to the national security minister rather than the police, saying the move would lead to a breakdown of the police force along with damage to citizens’ security.

Shabtai was echoing remarks he made earlier this week warning of the consequences of not making the new force subordinate to the police.

The cabinet on Sunday voted to approve the establishment of a national guard, which far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir had demanded would report directly to him.

Speaking at a ceremony at the Western Galilee College to inaugurate a new research institute on personal security, Shabtai noted that his opposition to the proposed arrangement is no secret and again stressed the need for keeping all law enforcement under one roof.

“Establishing a national guard that will be subordinate to [Ben Gvir’s] office is an unnecessary move that will have a very heavy price, to the point of harming citizens’ personal security,” Shabtai said.

“Disconnecting [the new force] from police control and command would destroy personal security, waste of resources, and cause the disintegration of the Israel Police from within, both at the level of building the force and in its operation,” he said. “The national guard must be part of the Israel Police, operate within the police framework, and be subordinate to the commanders of the territorial forces according to the chain of command.”

Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL)

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.” A timeline for the creation of such a force is unclear, though it is likely to take months. A committee will also decide whether, as Ben Gvir has sought, it will report directly to him.

Likud MK Tally Gotliv on Tuesday also came out against the establishment of a “national guard” subordinate to Ben Gvir, saying that while such a body is needed, it should not be under the purview of a cabinet minister.

“A cabinet minister outlines policy, enacts regulations, prioritizes tasks, ensures an adequate budget, [and] is responsible for carrying out the policies of his office — but he does not give direct instructions,” Gotliv tweeted. “That’s my position.

“Just as the justice minister does not tell attorneys how to act, so too the national security minister can’t give instructions to police officers. Yes to the national guard, no to its subordination to the minister,” she added.

Shabtai cautioned in a letter to Ben Gvir last week that separating the new force from the police would severely harm public security and cause chaos in law enforcement, warning of “disastrous consequences.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara also sounded the alarm Sunday, telling the government that there is a “legal hindrance” to the current version of the proposal and that the police can deal with the challenges it faces without a competing body.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Ben Gvir last week that he would bring the issue to a vote at the cabinet meeting, in exchange for the far-right minister remaining in the government despite his strong opposition to Netanyahu’s pause of judicial overhaul legislation to allow for dialogue with the opposition.

The authority granted to the national guard, and who it will answer to, will be discussed by a committee of professionals from different security bodies and government agencies who will deliver their conclusions within 90 days, according to a cabinet statement.

A chorus of former senior police commanders have warned against the plan, including former police chief Moshe Karadi, who said Ben Gvir could use the force to launch a “coup.” Civil rights groups as well as opposition politicians have similarly 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.

The far-right Ben Gvir, as national security minister, 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 make sure are left open during the protests, discussing the methods of crowd dispersal, and visiting police command centers while demonstrations were underway. He has reportedly had a frosty relationship with Shabtai since being appointed minister.

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