Ex-police chief: Ben Gvir could use proposed national guard to launch coup

A former police chief said on Saturday that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir could use his proposed national guard to stage a coup against the government, joining the ranks of ex-cops who have warned against the plans.

Moshe Karadi, who led the force between 2004-2007, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be wary of giving that power to the far-right lawmaker, warning that Ben Gvir will use “it’s against him one day.”

Netanyahu should “learn a little history and see what happens in countries where politicians have their own armed forces,” Karadi said at a speaking event at the Emek Hefer Regional Council. “There is a short distance between this and the fact that he could, with this power, take over the Prime Minister’s Office and launch a coup.”

The cabinet is set on Sunday to discuss the creation of a national guard force of 2,000 service members who will answer directly to the far-right lawmaker and be tasked with fighting “nationalist crime” and terrorism, and “restoring governance where needed.”

A timeline for creating such a force is unclear, although it is likely to take several months.

But civil rights groups as well as opposition politicians have expressed concern about the proposal to bring such a force under the direct control of a government minister, arguing it could politicize policing and undermine the principle of equality in law enforcement.

Channel 12 reported on Friday that Ben Gvir refused a request from Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to attend cabinet meetings to give his opinion on the formation of the force.

Karadi also warned on Saturday of a potentially disastrous situation in which the police and the proposed national guard receive conflicting orders to deal with protesters.

“Imagine [demonstrators] block the Ayalon Highway, and the district commander decides in this case, that it is right to keep the protest as it has been until now. So he lets them, and the national security minister doesn’t like it,” Karadi said.

Then “the minister sends his “revolutionary guard” to clear the road,” he said, comparing the proposed force to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “And then, we have a collision between two police forces, one under the Police Commissioner, and another under the Minister.”

In an interview with Channel 12 on Friday, Karadi labeled the plans a “recipe for disaster.”

Ben Gvir was repeatedly directly involved in the policing of the massive demonstrations against the government’s judicial reform program, including telling the police which highways to leave open during the protests, crowd dispersal methods to discuss, and visit police headquarters and demonstrations in progress. .

Another former police commissioner, Assaf Hefetz, told Channel 12 on Friday that Ben Gvir’s plans should not be carried out, because such a force should be accountable to the police, and “is not the responsibility of a politician”.

Former Israel Police Commissioner Assaf Hefetz attends a press conference in Tel Aviv, January 15, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“He can’t do it, he doesn’t know and he has no idea how to build something like this,” Hefetz said, and he emphasized that if a national guard were to be established, it should be accountable to the police.

“Two bodies cannot work on the same territorial unit, called the State of Israel, it is too small an area and there is no need or logic for this,” explained Hefetz.

If the garda is not integrated into the police, “there is a fear that it will become a militia, and that disqualifies it from being a police force that works under the law,” he said.

Ben Gvir took a jab at Hefetz and Karadi during the interviews on Friday, tweeting that reality shows should “give them a talent contract because their need to pay attention to me is a bit pathetic.”

David Tzur, the former police chief of the Tel Aviv District, also expressed his concern that a force subject to a politician would create issues: “It damages one of the most important elements of the principle of deployment of forces and unity of command.”

“It will be a private army at best and a militia at worst. I understand why he thinks he needs this,” Tzur told the network, citing the weak police response to serious riots seen in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in May 2021. However, it was “an unreasonable response to create such a force,” he said.

In the explanatory notes to Ben Gvir’s proposal on the subject, it is noted that the last government initiated plans for a national guard as part of the response to these riots so that the government can respond more quickly to such outbreaks between -. communal violence.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai at a ceremony for the opening of a new police station in the Neot Hovav Industrial zone, southern Israel, March 14, 2023. (Flash90)

Channel 12 reported on Saturday that within the ranks of the police, the plans for a national guard are seen as a “disaster.”

Senior police sources told the network that, in the last few months, they have been dealing mainly with police protests against the proposed judicial overhaul, which has led to a shortage of manpower.

The officials accepted that Ben Gvir had not fulfilled his promises to increase recruitment and transfer funds. On the contrary, the sources said that more staff are leaving the force than are joining.

The national guard unit established by the previous government in 2022 is currently under the authority of the Israel Police and consists of only a few hundred personnel mostly derived from the Border Police, which is itself a gendarmerie force.

The proposal says the new national guard force will consist of “dedicated, regular forces and tactical brigades” spread across the country.

The draft resolution was published days after Netanyahu promised to hold a vote on Sunday in Ben Gvir’s reprieve agreeing to suspend the judicial shakeup legislation following mass protests, strikes, and riots against the plan. The government is currently in talks with the opposition to try to reach a negotiated compromise on the matter.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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