Report: Netanyahu says IDF training for possible fight with Arab Israelis in wartime

Prime minister said to tell lawmakers on Knesset committee that 10 divisions of soldiers are being prepared to counter threat of fifth column; IDF declines to comment

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on June 13, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on June 13, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly informed lawmakers that the IDF is training to deploy masses of soldiers to counter a possible fifth column of Arab Israelis fighting inside the country in the event of a multi-front war with enemy states.

Netanyahu revealed the preparations during a recent closed-door meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Sunday.

The prime minister reportedly told lawmakers that 10 divisions of soldiers are training for such a possibility.

A military spokesperson declined to comment on the report when asked by The Times of Israel, although they referred to a previous article on drills aimed at securing the nation’s highways against civilian rioters during a war.

According to the unsourced report, the subject did not come up during Netanyahu’s presentation at the meeting but was raised during questions from lawmakers.

MKs asked if the military is ready for a multi-front war that will also include fighting against elements of the Arab Israeli community.

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

“The IDF is preparing for that,” Netanyahu responded according to the report. “There are 10 military divisions training for that. True, that is not enough, but they are preparing for such a day.”

Last week, Netanyahu attended a Knesset defense committee meeting and in his public remarks declared that Israel would not see itself bound by any agreement that Washington might reach with Iran over its nuclear program. Israel believes that a conflict with Iran over its nuclear program could also lead to a multi-front war with the Islamic Republic’s proxies in the region.

The discussion over facing internal violence from the Arab Israeli community during wartime has gained prominence in recent years. During May 2021, massive riots broke out in many Arab towns and mixed Israeli cities, home to large numbers of both Arabs and Jews, during an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

In June 2022, the previous government announced the formation of a National Guard that would be activated in emergencies, citing lessons learned from the unrest the previous year.

The plan never developed, but current National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has been pushing for a volunteer National Guard that would be controlled by his ministry. In May, ministers voted in favor of forming such a guard, which would potentially be under Ben Gvir’s control.

A series 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.

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai also cautioned in a letter to Ben Gvir that separating the new force from the police will severely harm public security and cause chaos in law enforcement, warning of “disastrous consequences.”

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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